Who is Martin Crimp and where has he been hiding all these years? Maybe as you read this, you’re thinking “he’s not new to ME”. Congratulations if you’re able to say that
I just saw my first Crimp play tonight, namely The Treatment. As I recall –with the help of google—I had a few opportunities in the past couple of years, but didn’t take advantage of opportunities to see Attempts on Her Life, and The City, as well as classic plays Crimp translated from French (his Misanthrope was on just last month according to google, that arena of the belated and the might-have-been). I feel as embarrassed as a doctor not knowing about a common ailment. Aren’t drama grads supposed to know famous playwrights? In my defence all I can say is:
- I don’t think the reading lists for comprehensive exams include him (at least not yet),
and (blush cough cough)
- opera, musicals and film are really my specialties
Suddenly I am excited that another Martin Crimp play — Cruel & Tender– is going to be produced next year at Canadian Stage, directed by Atom Egoyan.
I saw The Treatment tonight at Theatre Glendon, and in the process discovered a distinctive “new” voice: that is if you can call something “new” that has been popular in England for twenty years. The Treatment premiered in 1993. I suppose I should cut myself some slack, given that Crimp has gone from comparative obscurity—at least in Canada—to becoming very popular over the past few years. His writing isn’t easy, which is probably the reason it has taken so long for him to become a major star. With a dozen parts in the play (only one pair of small parts can easily be doubled) it’s challenging for the producers & performers, as well as for the audience.
The Treatment is a wonderfully meta-theatrical study of modern life. We slip between two worlds disturbingly connected. A husband and wife team—Jennifer & Andrew—seem to be seeking a fit subject for a film; or perhaps they’re actually seeking life in their own lifeless marriage. Another husband and wife –Anne & Simon—struggle with a torture scenario, partly imaginary, partly real; does he tie her up with her consent (and possibly for her pleasure), or is it something she hates and seeks to escape? Sitting on the boundary between the “real” pain-filled world of Anne & Simon on the one hand, and the vicarious parasitic world of Jennifer & Andrew on the other, we find Clifford the writer. Oh boy, an invitation to meditate on life and art. How could i resist? Clifford introduces himself to increasingly hilarious effect as a writer who was famous for some hits in the 70s; he works half a year (just enough to pay the bills), and spends the other half-year writing.
Before long, Anne encounters Andrew, who wants Anne’s story AND her body. We will watch the treatment –as in the title—of Anne’s scenario take us to entirely different versions of the plot. An alternative writer –Nicky the deadpan receptionist in Jennifer & Andrew’s office—and Jane, the director, object to the passivity of Anne’s character, as an affront to womenkind. And so they substitute fictition for the reality they had previously been reading and trying out in their studio. In and of itself that’s not really news: that “look what they’ve done to my song” trope. But this is deeper and stranger, because art & image come into collision with Anne’s identity & authenticity, while the whole busy apparatus of art & culture are presented in the most cynical terms.
It’s the relationship between the two worlds and their imaginative juxtaposition that energizes The Treatment. We get to watch the film version of Anne & Simon’s violent scenario, juxtaposed against the originals. As we bounce between the two worlds –that is, the world of Anne & Simon, and the replica thereof—the relationship between the two gets confusing because there is so much going on inside the head of each of the characters.
Theatre Glendon’s production was an adaptation directed by Aleksandar Lukac, which is to say that in addition to the complexities of the original, Lukac added some additional challenges of his own. I can’t pretend that I know the script –I don’t!—but Lukac told me that he changed the sequence in places, such that we’re sometimes seeing the film version of an event before we see the reality it’s supposed to have captured. For me, the most wonderful part of the presentation is completely Lukac’ creation, namely the filmed replica of Anne’s story being enacted in a studio space, and then simultaneously projected onto the back wall of the stage. The result is quite surreal & disturbing, even as it is also wonderfully ironic and full of insight about the nature of the mind and how story-telling & fantasy work.
While there are most definitely issues in The Treatment’s attitude to genders (some will be offended by what they see) it’s amazingly funny. I laughed so loudly with others in the audience at one point that we made the unfortunate actor playing a waitress start to laugh uncontrollably; I don’t think she or her colleagues realized how FUNNY that scene was until that moment. Part of me felt sorry for disrupting her performance, while another part loved the sense of surprise.
The play is a meditation upon authenticity and a genuine life. We see phoniness in abundance, usually layered in ironic delivery, and very few moments when the people onstage are likeable or nice. We occasionally encounter genuine passion, particularly from Anne & Simon, whose lives are at the centre of this comedic nightmare.
Adam Abbas played Andrew with a deliberate stillness evoking a species of office animal we’ve seen before in films involving politicians & lawyers, as well as films about film such as Altman’s The Player. At the other extreme of the human spectrum, we encounter the Simon of Vito Corapi, a brooding angry man capable of sudden bursts of poetry; you couldn’t take your eyes off his coiled physical presence whenever he came onstage. The bridge between the two was Philip Tetro’s Clifford, a splendidly creepy study in the mechanics of selling out, or perhaps a portrait of the artist as a shyster.
The two main female characters are not quite so simple; or in other words, I am still trying to figure them out and want to tread carefully. Michelle Drutz was Jennifer, the other half of the vicarious couple; in some respects she is powerful, in other respects, another victim. Anais Rozencwajg was Anne, stepping in and out of a realm of fantasy, in what must be the most complex role in the play.
I was especially pleased by several small portrayals that in their way stopped the show. Whenever Baudride Mbaya’s Bay Lady was onstage it was as if everyone else vanished. Yes the writing gave her several wonderful lines, but it’s not just that she slam-dunked her best moments; Mbaya happily took the stage when given the opportunity. Lynda Dawkins was also blessed with some wonderful lines as the blind cab driver (hard to believe right? very funny), which she underplayed, reminding me of a female Stevie Wonder. Some of the most inventive moments came from Geneviève Melanson’s Nicky, the brilliant receptionist cursed to work for the incompetents (Jennifer & Andrew). While Nicky never said anything too caustic, Melanson let us see her contempt, and in the process was a huge crowd-pleaser.
Rounding out the cast were Kaila MacDuff & Denix Wilson as the film actors portraying Simon & Anne, often providing an amusing juxtaposition between what we’d seen and what they enact, both onstage and then, when caught by a video camera, projected to the other side of the stage. Where were we to look? We often had several options. Between Crimp & Lukac, there was never a let-down.