2 min

Love-struck & overdressed

A strong rhythm doesn't prevent predictability

WILDE ABANDON. Michael Schultz and Mark Caven star as the title characters in the bedchamber drama William And James, penned by Toronto's Robert Tsonos. Credit: Xtra files

Theatre Passe Muraille’s production of William And James tries admirably to be a homosexual Victorian melodrama, set in a sumptuous 19th-century bedroom, with slight comic overtones and a tentative blend of naturalistic and campy acting. It succeeds, for the most part, as a charming, witty, at times poignant allegory of the ways in which marginalized, love-struck subjects are often unable to take themselves seriously.

But beyond all that, there is far too much gratuitous clothing in this play.

William and James are lovers, on stage for 85 minutes without an intermission, and only once do we see the younger of the two hop out of bed naked, then quickly hop back into his Victorian trousers. Haven’t we laboured long enough under the literary and cinematic notion that they struggled passionately with their clothes on in the 19th century? I looked at my notepad for a moment and missed a glimpse of William’s private parts, expecting there to be at least one more opportunity over the next hour. I was sadly mistaken.

Let it be said, once and for all, nudity in the theatre is never gratuitous, unless it includes the audience.

Robert Tsonos’ script is a curious mixture of insightful Wildean humour and amorous Byronian sentiment that employs clever moments of storytelling and repetition, where scenes are replayed with subtle emotional changes. An uneasy tension, however, exists between heightened romantic moments and pithy one-liners. There are some fun, titillating moments of sexually charged dialogue, and Mark Caven’s ability to make James, the older gentleman, look deeply vulnerable, makes this production an endearing and suspenseful exercise in romantic fortune. Michael Schultz, as William, matches his fellow actor’s charm and talent with sincerity and depth.

The play has a strong, clever rhythm that is intriguing to a point. But the final moments seem a little too predictable. The direction is fast paced and playful, and George Pothitos’ set is a dazzling arrangement of campy Victorian fare. However, the play is not quite sure of its genre. Tsonos has said that earlier workshop versions were more melodramatic. In this production one gets the feeling that a little more melodrama, built carefully throughout, at a subtly escalating pace, might have given the denouement a somewhat more intriguing aspect.

Nevertheless, despite the presence of far too much beautiful clothing, this is a charming and discreet piece of homosexual theatre that ultimately and ironically insists through the character of William that, “just because we were incapable or unwilling to call it what it was does not mean it doesn’t exist.” William and James, the play and the players, exist, but they are a little too evasive about the style and the demeanor of that existence.

* William And James continues at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave) until Sun, Jan 26; call (416) 504-PLAY.