Canadian Stage presents Martin Crimp’s play Cruel and Tender directed by Atom Egoyan at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.
Cruel and Tender is British playwright Martin Crimp’s contemporary adaptation of Sophocles’ Trachiniae (The Women of Trachis), a tale of love, jealousy and deceit between Greek hero Heracles, his wife Deianeira and lole, daughter of the king of Euboas, a city captured by Heracles.
In Cruel and Tender Crimp updates the ancient Greek tragedy and sets it against the political climate of the world today. The overthrow of dictators, child soldiers in armed tribal conflicts, and the use of the threat of terrorism as justification for committing brutal atrocities in an imperialist war are all subjects he touches upon.
However, the play isn’t entirely about politics, it also focuses on the personal side of war and examines the psychological aspects and personal motivations that lead to war.
The production marks the return of Academy-Award nominated filmmaker Atom Egoyan to the Canadian stage after a 20-year absence. This project also affords him an opportunity to work with his wife, actress Arsinée Khanjian who stars as Amelia, the modern-day Deianeira.
Amelia is the most compelling character to watch as she teeters on the brink of insanity. She alternates between worrying for her husband (Daniel Kash), referred to only as “The General,” and fits of jealousy as she discovers that Laela (Abena Malika), the young African girl her husband has sent to their home, is her husband’s lover and the motivation behind his rogue rampage which has completely annihilated Laela’s village.
Jeff Lillico also turns in a solid performance as Amelia’s brooding son James, as do Nigel Shawn Williams as the seedy government official Jonathan and Daniel Kash as The General who suffers from a mix of illness-induced delusion and post-traumatic stress disorder when we finally meet him near the end of the play.
Debra Hanson’s production design provides an interesting visual backdrop for the play. The action takes place on a large hangar-like set done all in white. The set design evokes the sterility of a hospital or mental institution. The blank canvas walls also serve as a projection screen for the show’s occasional video elements.
The projections are most effective in the scene near the end of the play where a live video feed from a camera manipulated by one of the characters is projected onto the set as a backdrop to the live action. It’s done in a documentary/cable TV news style and is an interesting commentary on the immediacy and access we have to world events in our connected age.
Cruel and Tender is smart, satirical and thought-provoking. It makes its political statements without proselytizing and speaks to the political climate of the world today.
- Cruel and Tender is playing at the Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts (27 Front St. E) through February 18, 2012
- Shows run Monday-Saturday, 8PM; Wednesday, 1:30PM; Saturday, 2PM
- Tickets $22.00 to $99.00
- Tickets are available by phone 416.368.3110, in person at the box office or visit www.canadianstage.com
Photo credit: Arsinée Khanjian and Abena Malika in Cruel and Tender. Photo by Bruce Zinger.