Reviews Grimly Handsome; Backbone;
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.
Jeff Irving looks sharp in Grimly Handsome.