Friday, March 9, 2012

Review: (Montreal) The Leisure Society

.+Beware: Smoking, Nekkid and Angst Ahead
Leisure Society finally hits Montreal in English

by Sarah Deshaies

François Archambault's The Leisure Society has been winning rave reviews here and all over Canada, but it's only receiving its first public outing in Montreal and in English now. 

Good thing, too, since it's actually quite good. 

Cue the unravelling.

This dark social farce takes on a selfish, contrived group of people - the me generation. Peter and Mary are our hapless couple, and mirror. They have it all, but let's rattle off their traits: they are selfish, vile and cruel towards each other. They are career-driven. And they, like the economy, are about to collapse.  And then there's their kid: they are exhausted by a baby who won't stop crying. Despite being seemingly incapable of raising one child competently, they apply to adopt a Chinese girl, simply for the status. Besides, someone has to play the lavish grand piano they've bought themselves, and it certainly won't be them. Chinese girls, they explain to a faceless, voiceless adoption agent via Skype, are perfectly suited to musical proficiency. 

Peter (Daniel Brochu - the voice of Baxter on Arthur!) and Mary (vedette Catherine de Sève) are expecting their lecherous friend, Mark (Howard Rosenstein), newly liberated from his marriage. He brings along a curvaceous 21-year-old “special friend,” Paula (Sheena Gazé-Deslandes).

Peter and Mary need to share some bad news: they need to break up with Mark. He just doesn't fit into their lifestyle anymore. Cue the unravelling.

It's a small reunion here for Rosenstein, Gazé-Deslandes and director Ellen David: all three starred in David Sherman's journalism drama The Daily Miracle at the Bain a few seasons ago, where he was the office divorcee, David was the rankled mother and Gazé-Deslandes first played the pop tart. 
Here, all of the performers fit their roles like snug gloves, though I am still not quite convinced by Gazé-Deslandes’ casual delivery. Rosenstein is a middle-aged bachelor reborn, Brochu is the emasculated perfectionist and De Sève is a standout as a woman letting loose. 

Vincent Lefèvre's set is straight out of one of Mary's design magazines, perfectly encompassing the modern bubble in which Peter and Mary have wrapped themselves. Of course, people like them have advanced lighting systems, and lighting designer Julien St. Pierre fits the bill colourfully.

But the fun grinds to a stop with a hangover-like halt...

Forgive me if this sounds simplistic, but I couldn't help but be reminded of God of Carnage. Also originally adapted from French, but from France, Montreal's English version opened last fall at the Centaur with David starring as high-strung Veronica. Like in Leisure, we are presented with four adults who dwell in well-appointed homes and present a face of privilege and well-being to the world; but introduce alcohol and get rid of the exits, and you strip off that thin veneer of happiness - but Leisure has more sex and booze. And darkness. 

And like a good night out, the play improves as it winds on, wine greasing the character’s wheels. But the fun grinds to a stop with a hangover-like halt, and the characters are left to deal with their actions.
The parody pokes fun at North American neuroses, vacuity and desperation, but offers a simple prescription: don't drop out - soldier on. 

The Leisure Society runs at Bain St-Michel, 5300 St-Dominique, until March 25. Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors. Runtime: 90 minutes. There will be nudity and smoking!

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