As befits a play called In Absentia, a dull sadness pervades the piece at the Centaur until March 4. The world premiere of a minor work by major award-winning Canadian playwright Morris Panych - it is an introspective, overwrought mediation on love, grief and mortality.
Much of the action takes place in the headspace a woman named Collette, (Jillian Fargey) mourning for her husband, Tom (Paul Hopkins) who has been taken hostage by drug lords in South America and is presumed dead. Collette is housebound in winter, looked after by her sister, Evelyn (Susan Glover) and cared for by a neighbour Bill, (Carlo Mestroni), an organic farmer who drops in from time to help with the chores. The scent of bleach, we are told, is everywhere, in an attempt to wash away her unhappiness.
Suffering from cabin fever and needing to “thaw her heart,” Collette invites Jasper, (Jade Hassouné) a brooding teenager “who just appeared out of nowhere, freezing to death,” on the ice- covered lake outside her window into her home. She dresses him up in her husband`s clothes then falls for him. What she doesn`t know is that the teen may – or may not have been complicit in her spouse’s death.
The play is set in the present and in flashbacks . Tom stalks the stage, a ghostly observer who makes the occasional suggestion which helps drive the fractured time structure along. Collette spends so much time “imagining closeness” with his spirit the surrealism eventually slips into maudlin, self-indulgent sentimentalism. The script is awash with soul-stirring platitudes such as “Love exists when everything else is gone,” or “Winter can only hold on to us for so long.”
Perhaps the theme of In Absentia is summed up best by one of the characters who tells us what they are doing is “Exercising patience… waiting out the pain, putting our focus to things we can actually piece together.” The wait proves to be interminable. By the time the pieces all fall into place in the second act the story has become so absurd, we no longer care. Jillian Fargey lacks emotion as Collette; she’s inexplicably placid. Some of the best and funniest lines are delivered by Susan Glover , who runs away with the secondary role as her wide eyed sister. As the studly Jasper, Jade Hassouné combines a sexual charge with a touch of vulnerability. Paul Hopkins is impressively understated as the walking corpse and Carlo Mestroni is good as Bill. John Dinning’s multi- level set, all frosty branches and cold stone, is glacially magnificent but far too elaborate and overpowering for so intimate a space.
Panych is an inventive story teller, but perhaps a tougher director than Roy Surette may have persuaded him to pare some of the ennui, and make the execise a bit more gripping and a little less tedious.