Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review: (Toronto) The Amorous Adventures of Anatol

Mike Shara and Nicole Underhay
(photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)
Actors at Play
by Christian Baines
For Viennese lothario, Anatol, one woman is much the same as any other, to the point he categorizes his past loves by describing encounters, rather than names. Fortunately, actor Nicole Underhay is onboard to give at least seven of those women a unique face and personality. She’s one of four performers bringing this fairly breezy, but no less entertaining update of a 19th century classic to life.
The story is familiar, and the tropes, instantly recognizable. Anatol (Mike Shara), the highly desirable young love-rat has wooed half the women of Vienna, each time finding that the woman he has in his life is never the woman he wants. Witness to his conquests and misadventures, is his old friend Max (Robert Persichini), serving as both supportive friend and inevitable head-shaker. They are well served, both in character and performance by Adam Paolozza playing servant roles of various kinds. Though mostly silent, Paolozza manages to create the distinct impression of having a far greater awareness of his master’s woes than he does. In some ways, he is the audience’s eyes and ears on stage to the obvious realities Anatol cannot see, and Max prefers to ignore.
Anatol is the main object of fun here, and Shara more than delivers on that role.

The three actors bounce off one another with wordplay and physical comedy that seems effortless. Both the delivery, and the sharp writing of adapter and director, Morris Panych, are peppered with playful details that are a joy to watch unfold. Key to this is the actors’ commitment to playing the material straight, without a trace of sly, self-consciousness or smarminess. Put simply, we like Anatol. Far from obnoxious, his ego is completely earnest and so, only escalates his trouble. In Shara’s hands, petty strife brought about by Anatol’s philandering becomes an epic struggle for his reputation and libido – possibly in lieu of a soul, with each woman in his life a more frightening devil than the last.

For that, special mention must go to Underhay, who creates a rogues gallery of young lovers to drive our hero mad, often making herself virtually unrecognizable as she moves through the rapid transformations. She is equally at home playing an arch old flame as she is playing a clueless young ditz or jilted sociopath. Her strength and presence, along with Panych’s masterful update of the text, also prevents the play from ever straying too near the path of misogyny. Anatol is the main object of fun here, and Shara more than delivers on that role.
While it never tries to challenge its audience, Panych’s update on a classic does exactly what it intends to, serving up plenty of laughs while giving its text with a refreshing, contemporary tone.

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