The NAGs breathed new life into Perfect Crime on stage at the Tranzac Club in Toronto
You’ve probably never heard of a play called Perfect Crime, which has been running off-Broadway since the Reagan administration. And that’s fine: the script is a wreck, the thrills mostly cheap, and the mystery less a “whodunnit” than a “Jesus Christ, who even CARES?!”
But the NAGs (a local community troupe who’ve played out of the Tranzac even longer) are determined to salvage it through camp alone, playing it as an over-the-top soap opera every bit as unhinged and ridiculous as the script. And as it turns out, there is some life in this hoary old play.
As you’d probably expect, this production works best when it works most: they get most of their laughs when off-script, working directly against the thrust of the material. Lord knows these dire monologues need some punching up, and the NAGs’ self-aware gags are one of the best ways to make you forget you’ve listened to five minutes of too-clever-by-half whinging.
Michelle Baynton anchors the show as Dr. Margaret Thorne Brent, fully embracing the ludicrous and tortured contortions this overwritten role requires. Acting for six is hard work, and Baynton makes it look effortless, equally effective as seducer, victim, analyst, careerist bitch, doe-eyed housewife, and fries julienne.
Norman Hussey also does a lot of heavy lifting as Detective (Inspector?) James Ascher. As written, Ascher might as well be a cardboard cut-out, doing little else but being manipulated and flung around the stage by the other characters; Hussey supplements this dire part with a healthy side of ham, channeling the Three Stooges to fill time during other characters’ lengthy expositional microdramas.
Stephen Cardie runs off into a world of his own as patient Lionel McAuley, climbing the walls and chewing the furniture through some of the play’s most excruciating sequences. Peculiarly, by inhabiting a different planet from the rest of the cast, Lionel feels like the most grounded character, and adds an element of menace to a play which would otherwise just be a too-long farce.
That leaves Stuart Faulkner as the six-line leading man, whose sole job is to look dapper and vaguely out-of-place; Rob Wilson, who appears only in a pre-show send-up of dismal local cable TV; and Cecely Arthur, who has lucked into the easiest role anywhere near a Broadway theatre. (Open a doorway; look shocked; close it again; never re-appear.)
The cast is strong, but the reason this show is baseline watchable is down to the efforts of Pamela Barker, who saw the obvious comic possibility in blowing the piss out of this rotten old pecan. It’s rather telling that, when Barker gives the actors the least to do — especially around the opening scenes — the play is at its most awful. Sticking with it until the second half, when the wheels fall off and roll away in all directions, is a rewarding investment, and the moments when Barker has the full courage of her convictions are among the best.
- Perfect Crime played the Tranzac Club (292 Brunswick, near Bloor and Spadina) through November 14, 2015.
- Tickets for next season are now on sale: see website for details.
Photograph of Michelle Baynton and Norman Hussey provided by the company.