Site-specific pairing of plays in Toronto, FORNÉS X2, is wholly satisfying
My experience of seeing Theatre Asylum’s FORNÉS X2 was a lot like the experience of eating at an exceptionally good pop-up restaurant. I went in not knowing a whole lot about the brilliant Maria Irene Fornés or her plays The Successful Life of 3 and Mud (the two plays that make up FORNÉS X2), but I was assured that I was about to see something of high quality. Thankfully, I enjoyed both plays immensely and was left fully satisfied.
If FORNÉS X2 is like a gourmet meal, then The Successful Life of 3 is the world’s most perfect appetizer. I found it light and funny, with just enough intellectual depth to get me thinking about the themes of masculine rivalry and stifled female potential that run through both plays.
I might summarize The Successful Life of 3 as follows: The three characters – He, She, and 3 – live in a stagnant state in an isolated world on the stage. The male characters, He and 3, compete for the affection of She. She marries the handsome and sexy He, but is more faithful to the intelligent and upwardly-mobile 3. Comedy ensues when 3 decides to become Zorro, and He becomes a detective bent on bringing him to justice.
Stylistically, The Successful Life of 3 is a little bit like Who’s On First meets Waiting For Godot. The 25-minute-long play consists of a series of absurd and comic sketches that don’t so much tell a story as gesture towards the outline of one. I feel like I laughed out loud more than some of the other audience members, but the performances by Jamie Robinson (He), Michelle Latimer (She), and Hardee T. Lineham (3) are genuinely hysterical.
Following The Successful Life of 3 with Mud was a stroke of genius. The same three actors play similar characters in the second play, but the fun and bright colours of the first play are stripped away to force the audience to confront some of the issues that come up in the first play. Following my gourmet meal at a pop-up metaphor, we get to the meat and potatoes with Mud as a main course.
In Mud, Latimer plays Mae, a young woman with the ambition to learn and better herself, tied to her family farm by Lloyd (played by Robinson), a diseased and unlearned buffoon who is something between an adopted brother and a mate to Mae. When Mae brings Henry (played by Lineham) home to help her to read a book the doctors gave her about Lloyd’s illness, she invites him to stay with her and Lloyd indefinitely, creating tension between all three characters.
Mud is both longer and more serious in tone than The Successful Life of 3, and it comes from a much later point in Fornés’ career. I found the writing in Mud simple and sophisticated and much tighter than the writing in The Successful Life of 3. The performances by the three actors are also similarly more nuanced in the second play. This is not to say that I didn’t find The Successful Life of 3 enjoyable, but I was really moved by Mud.
The reason that I call FORNÉS X2 a gourmet meal at a pop-up restaurant is because of Theatre Asylum’s stylistic choice to stage their show in a dilapidated, site-specific space in a basement under a restaurant in the Kensington Market. Although I understand their intentions and applaud their homage to Fornés’ dedication to non-commercial, Off-Off-Broadway theatre, I have to say that having water pipes drip on me throughout the second act was not a pleasant experience.
Other than this minor discomfort, I will totally recommend seeing Theatre Asylum’s production FORNÉS X2 to everyone. Both plays are exceptionally well written, well staged, and well acted and will leave you satisfied and thinking about them for a long time to come.
- FORNÉS X2 is playing until June 14 at 213 Augusta Avenue (down the alley below Fresco’s Fish and Chips).
- Shows run Tuesday to Sunday at 8pm,
- Ticket cost $25 in advance and $28 at the door, with a Student/Senior/Arts Worker rate of $18 and are available online, or at the door. (Be advised there are only 30 tickets per show, 20 in advance online and 10 at the door).
Photo of Michelle Latimer and Jamie Robinson by Troy Hourie.