Explosive Trouble with Mr. Adams

What is the trouble with Mr. Adams? Nothing we haven’t seen before.

As it’s summarized on the Tarragon Theatre website
The Trouble With Mr Adams is a “brand new play from Tarragon Playwright-in-Residence Gord Rand’ [that] exposes the male mid-life crisis in all its awkward and ruinous glory.”

Every now and then this awkward scenario rears its head in a tawdry news item or on reality TV, a teacher and a student ignoring societal prohibitions to surrender to the call of nature. Nabokov’s novel Lolita and its two film adaptations tell one version of this tale.  The difference between a banal story and a worthwhile play, however, is clearly something Rand thought about long and hard. The exposition is perhaps the least important element, as we are not in a realm of plot & details. Rand puts us into three different conversations, each of which is carried inevitably by the conflict:

  • Scene one: Gary & his wife Peggy
  • Scene two: Gary & lawyer Barbara
  • Scene three: Gary & young Mercedes

What is most exquisite about each scene is the unfolding relationship and how it’s teased out in the writing & the performances. Because it’s a slow-motion train-wreck, we’re not really asking ourselves “what will happen next”, as we might in a film. Instead we’re watching the dynamics between the principals, the pain & suspense, occasional flashes or humour and the inevitable rages, as well as the rationalizations from Gary in each instance. The opening sequence is a bit too wordy, too many long poetic speeches, as it gathers steam, and then when the story shifts –with the discovery of what has transpired—everything is kicked into high gear and we forget all about that literary stuff as the room seems to ignite. From time to time (for instance for an unfortunate half-minute near the end) Rand resorts to that rarefied language, possibly to avert the nastier implications, or maybe because that’s how it’s usually done. But for those contrived moments, his writing is gold, and red-hot with the dynamics between his characters. I could watch it again tomorrow, to see how we get from point A to point B, to observe how each of the characters develops. In that sense this is what one wants in a theatre with live performances, the vulnerable performers aching and suffering before us.

Chris Earle (left) and Philippa Domville in The Trouble with Mr Adams at Tarragon Theatre (Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

Chris Earle (left) and Philippa Domville in The Trouble with Mr Adams at Tarragon Theatre (Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

Chris Earle is onstage for the entire 80 minutes, an everyman trapped in his own sophistry. This is a troubling play, as we are invited to step into the shoes of a pedophile, and it’s a disturbing identification even when the teacher is as innocent as Earle’s Gary. Philippa Domville is not at all what one would expect as the wife who confronts her husband. But if we had to listen to her railing, I don’t think we’d get past the first scene, and no one would identify with Gary for even a moment if he were a monster. I am reminded of the commentary on Paradise Lost that observes how Milton tempts us, making it easy to sympathize with the pompous rhetoric of Satan; who would ever read Milton if he simply preached and told us what to think? and so too Rand & his Gary, seductive and all too human.

The second scene takes us to a very different kind of discourse. Where Domville engages with Earle on every level, as friend, as lover, from the conversational to the blatantly physical, Allegra Fulton as Gary’s lawyer Barbara takes us into another sort of encounter.

Christ Earle & Allegra Fulton (Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

Christ Earle & Allegra Fulton (Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

The story is progressing, and now we’re beginning to see the consequences for Gary in his professional life & in the perception of society, as represented by a colossal deposition sitting on the desk during Gary’s interview with Barbara. Fulton too has a powerful physical presence, although she’s fully clothed throughout, even as the text sometimes challenges us to ignore the polite roles and to regress–with Gary– towards something more purely carnal. The final scene, between Earle and Sydney Owchar as Mercedes, the student who was the focus of the story, is the denouement. I avoid spoilers whenever possible, but suffice it to say that all four players are powerful and convincing throughout.

Director Lisa Peterson has mostly created a kind of seamless production, where one rarely thinks about how it’s done, as we arecaught up in the emotional tangle of the characters. It’s an accomplished piece of work that deserves to be seen & heard.

The Trouble with Mr Adams by Gord Rand continues at Tarragon Theatre’s Extraspace until November 29th.

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