Paul Hopkins, Jilian Fargay, Jade Hassouné
In Absentia at the Centaur Theatre
By Richard Burnett
Hopes were high for Centaur Theatre’s world premiere of In Absentia by Calgary-born Morris Panych, the celebrated playwright and director who has won two Canadian Governor General’s Literary Awards for Drama.
But rest assured, Panych will not win a third for In Absentia.
It’s somewhat unfair to critique the actors considering the meandering script they had to work with.
This unwieldy and wordy two-hour and 15-minute two-act play stars terrific actor Jillian Fargey as Collette, a woman whose husband (his ghost is ably played by Paul Hopkins) has been abducted while on a business trip to Colombia. A young drifter (played by hot twinkie Jade Hassouné) drifts into Collette’s life as she tries to make sense of her loss with the help of her neighbour Bill (Carlo Mestroni) and her sister Evelyn (Susan Glover).
It’s somewhat unfair to critique the actors considering the meandering script they had to work with. But Fargey alternated between sincere and blasé, Paul Hopkins and Carlo Mestroni acquitted themselves ably, and Hassouné just had to stretch languorously in the first act and flash his six-pack and pink nipples to keep the audience happy. But by the second act even Hassouné started to wear thin.
The stand-out performance was really by Susan Glover, whose inflections, expressions and body language reminded me a whole lot of comic actor Joan Cusack. Glover did the impossible and made me care about her unlikeable character, and gave the play its only poignant moments and real laughs.
Despite Panych’s unfocused script – the first half should have been trimmed by 20 minutes, and the second half by another 10 minutes – the audience did get to see yet another gorgeous set designed by John C. Dinning (why is this man not working on Broadway?) which was effectively-lit by lighting designer Luc Prairie.
Still, no bell and whistles could save In Absentia. By the time Collette in the second act asks the drifter, “What are you doing here?”, I no longer freakin’ cared.
In Absentia continues at the Centaur Theatre (453 Rue St. François Xavier) until March 4. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes. Click here for more info and tickets.