Review: Through The Leaves (The Company Theatre)

Maria Vacratsis (Martha) and Nicholas Campbell (Otto)

Through the Leaves is currently playing at the perfect location: Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre.   I attended the play with Vishnu, a “local”.  He informed me that the area is somewhat affectionately referred to as “The Annex Slums”.   The play is the story about a female butcher and her relationship with an old-school “man’s man”.

Playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz was born in Munich, West Germany in 1946.  He looks like a member of ABBA in the playbill picture.  He looks like a Muppet in other photos.  Don’t confuse these pictures with his work.  This play is dark, nasty, and real.  If there were people still living in Detroit, this might be a Motown story.

Maria Vacratsis enters the stage as Martha, the offal butcher.  She becomes Martha more than she plays her.  From the way she first enters the set, we feel a familiarity, a connection.  Her mannerisms and facial expressions speak volumes.  Sometimes silence is deafening.  Sometimes silence is emotional, gut-wrenching and welcoming.  Vacratsis conveys a rainbow of emotions before she utters a word.

Pouring a glass of vodka on the rocks, we get a taste of Otto before he enters.  Vodka on the rocks is painful to even imagine, strong and unpleasant.  When Otto, played by Nicholas Campbell of Da Vinci’s Inquest fame enters, the vodka seems like cream soda by comparison.

Otto is a complete maniac.  Imagine a cross of Dennis Hopper’s Blue Velvet character and Mick Jagger’s vocals from the early seventies.  Then throw in several other shades of grey.  Campbell manages to make me see my father-in-law in Otto.  He also turns him into my father, me and some of the shadier characters who work in factories.  Hopefully frat boys don’t get wind of this particular brand of macho nastiness.

The actors, together with John Thomspon’s set, obliterate the fourth wall, as well as one or two others.  The offstage confrontations are both blood curdling and hilarious.

At times I lost myself in this play.  I’d make eye contact with Martha in the snug theatre.  Is Otto going to completely lose control?  Does she need our help?

In the end, Through the Leaves is a love story.  Martha loves her job, Otto and her independence.  Otto loves pornography, alcohol and his independence.  I suppose this is Titanic for the rest of us.

I walked through The Annex Slums with Vishnu after the play.  The industry is gone, but the condos are late to arrive.  We shared a drink at a watering hole -two Labatt’s 50’s.  We remembered how our dads used to buy a case of beer every Christmas: twelve Blue and twelve 50. 

The days of wine and roses, the days of decent jobs are long gone.  Fortunately, outstanding writing and acting are still with us.  The play was written in German, but in the hands of The Company Theatre, it is an authentic slice of Canadiana.  It is universal.  I strongly suggest you take in this production.  Like those times and those characters, like memories, this play is fleeting.

Through The Leaves is playing at the the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space (30 Bridgeman Avenue) until October 3
-Shows are Tues-Sat at 8:00pm and Sun at 2:30pm
-Tickets range from $20 to $40
-Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 416-531-1827.

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