Re­views Grimly Hand­some; Back­bone;

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grimly hAnD­Some by Ju­lia Jar­cho (The­atre An­i­mal). At the As­sem­bly The­atre (1479 Queen West). Runs to Nov 19. $20$25. 416-802-0297. See Con­tin­u­ing, page 34. Rat­ing: nnn

Imag­ine an episode of Law & Or­der writ­ten by a cyn­i­cal phi­los­o­phy stu­dent and you’ll have a good idea of Grimly Hand­some.

Ju­lia Jar­cho’s in­trigu­ing play uses the tropes of the thriller and the po­lice pro­ce­dural to look at things like ur­ban alien­ation, power dy­nam­ics and sex­ual se­lec­tion.

In an un­named Amer­i­can city, two im­mi­grant Christ­mas tree-sell­ers (Jeff Irv­ing and Ben San­ders) dis­play their wares, one of them con­vinc­ing a shy, book­ish woman (Ju­lia Course) to join him for a cup of cof­fee.

Af­ter the woman’s body turns up butchered, two cops (Irv­ing and San­ders again), one of whose wife is hav­ing an af­fair with the other, in­ves­ti­gate, aided by a pos­si­ble male eye­wit­ness.

No spoil­ers about the sur­pris­ing fi­nal scene.

Di­rec­tor Jay Tur­vey isn’t go­ing for nat­u­ral­ism here; there’s some­thing ar­ti­fi­cial about Christine Urquhart’s cramped set and colour­ful cos­tumes, and Mikael Kan­gas’s light­ing de­sign seems in­ten­tion­ally harsh. One of the most ef­fec­tive el­e­ments is the score by Paul Sportelli and John-Luke Ad­di­son, which be­comes more sin­is­ter as the show pro­gresses.

The ac­tors, best known for their work at the Shaw Fes­ti­val, find lay­ers of sub­text and in­nu­endo in the di­a­logue. Course is es­pe­cially fine at dis­ap­pear­ing into her very dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters (she plays both the wife and eye­wit­ness).

But the im­pact of the show is slip­pery and eva­sive, and Tur­vey never finds a con­sis­tent tone, re­sult­ing in a se­ries of scenes that don’t come to­gether into some­thing co­he­sive.

glenn Sumi

Jeff Irv­ing looks sharp in Grimly Hand­some.

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