Reviewed in this essay: Tomasso’s Party, from Rooftop Creations. Written by Jules Lewis. Directed by Nigel Shawn Williams, and produced by André du Toit. Until January 15th at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto. Part of The Toronto Fringe’s NextStage Festival. 416-966-1062 or www.fringetix.ca.
It’s a performance that gives “pillow talk” an electrifying new meaning. In Jules Lewis’s Tomasso’s Party, the viewer is privy to an intense one-hour conversation between two lovers, Hugo (Simon Bracken) and Madeleine (Leah Doz), taking place in the couple’s bedroom in the early morning hours. The ostensible conflict of the drama is over Hugo’s attendance of a party held by Madeleine’s boss (the titular Tomasso) later that evening. Undergirding the conversation is the golden bedrock of romantic drama, a combination of infidelities, insecurities and inappropriate desires. The implicit quickly becomes explicit as Hugo and Madeleine have it out (in so many words) over Madeleine’s salacious behaviour.
Director Nigel Shawn Williams does a fantastic job making the arrangement of the stage echo the themes of the show. Stage right is where most of the visual action resides, featuring a bed with conspicuous mauve sheets, piles of books, a lamp on a dressing table and the majority of the rest of the prop content of the drama. A crooked window frame and single chair furnish a bare stage left, creating a noticeably off-balance environment that signals something in this partnership is askew.
Despite its touchy themes the play never gives in to sentimentality or melodrama, to the great credit of Bracken and Doz. The tone is consistently sharp, reminiscent of Pinter dialogues, and tipping his hat there as well as to Strindberg and Albee, Lewis focuses on the messy imbrication of desire and power. Bracken perfectly portrays the anxious Hugo, frantically conquering every corner of the stage as he paces the floor from bed to chair and shifts from the top to the foot of the bed, but always failing to conquer his partner’s indifference. Meanwhile Doz, seductively curled in blankets on the bed at stage right, keeps her back to us as well as to Bracken throughout the performance. Whether or not mistress Madeleine will turn around and offer us a view of her face is alone enough to keep the viewer engaged for the full hour.
In the meantime, spectators will be scorched by Bracken and Doz’s chemistry. Even at its most esoteric, the dialogue remains grounded in the real and recognizable emotions that permeate romantic relations, desire and its frustration foremost among them. Although Lewis ends the play on an explicitly carnal note, the viewer is more likely to leave the performance with memories of the comedic and the familiar moments in Tomasso’s Party. Indeed, the play is at its strongest when the hallmarks of Hugo and Madeleine’s seemingly ill-omened partnership come to bear on the foibles of romantic relations in general.
Tomasso’s Party is Lewis’s first theatrical production, and a resounding initial achievement: a performance worth putting on—or taking off—your party face for.