Jordan Pettle, Matthew Edison, Damien Atkins, Laura Condlin, Rebecca Northan, Bruce Dow. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Reviewed by James Karas
Sextet is one of the wittiest plays that I have seen in a some time and that is not its greatest virtue. Morris Panych’s play that just premiered at the Tarragon Theatre is funny, highly intelligent, thoroughly entertaining and has the marvelous backdrop of music by Arnold Schoenberg and poetry by Richard Dehmel.
The title refers to a string sextet (four men, two women) stuck in a cheap motel in some small town while on a concert tour. The set consists of six identical beds under the sign MOTEL where the musicians are staying. They run form one room to another or jump from one bed to the next as we find out about their lives, loves, lusts and sexual predilections.
They are a colourful group. Otto (Jordan Pettle) is a test-tube baby (his mother was artificially inseminated), he is on love with Mavis (Rebecca Northan) who, he thinks, is pregnant by him.
Mavis is married to Gerard (Bruce Dow) who has low sperm count and cannot be the father of Mavis’s baby. Mavis cannot be pregnant by Otto because they had “missionary style” sex and she can only become pregnant if she squats during sex.
We have horny Sylvia (Laura Condlin), gay Harry (Damien Atkins), perhaps bisexual Dirk (Matthew Edison) and the interaction among the six, the sexual and musical jokes, witticisms and wide range of references come at breakneck speed and are simply delightful.
Panych, who also directs, has structured the play not only around quick dialogue but also around interchanges that begin with a character saying something in one room and someone else replying in another part of the stage/motel. It gives the play and the production great fluidity and keeps the audience’s attention riveted to the performance. It also resembles the performance by the sextet where one instrument picks up the melody followed the other players, individually, in different groups or all together.
We get some marvelous performances. Dow’s Gerard keeps reminding us that he is not wearing a dress as he grabs Harry’s behind. He is quite funny. Atkins is simply hilarious as the gay musician who insists this is his last tour. He is attracted to the macho Dirk who has his own problems. He can only masturbate with his feet above his head!
Condlin brings in a fine performance as the neurotic and permanently aroused Sylvia. Northan’s Mavis is more down to earth as she tries to get semen from someone so she can fool her husband into believing that he actually fathered her child.
The play has Arnold Schoenberg’s string sextet Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) and German writer Richard Dehmel’s poem of the same title as its backdrop. Schoenberg was only 24 when he composed the sextet in a few weeks in 1899 when his love affair with his future wife Mathilde Zemlinsky was blossoming.
Parts of Dehmel’s poem echo in the play. In the poem two lovers meet in a cold grove on a moonlit night. She confesses to her lover that she is carrying another man’s child. He consoles her by saying that love will transfigure the strange man’s child and it will become theirs.
Love provides absolution of sins and transfiguration in Schoenberg’s sextet and Dehmel’s poem as well as in Panych’s play.
Kudos to Panych for writing and brilliant directing. The timing and delivery of the lines require precise timing and concise delivery to give the full extent of the hunour and the background of the play and high praise is due to the entire production.
An amazing night at the theatre.
Sextet by Morris Panych opened on November 12 and will run until December 14, 2014 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario. www.tarragontheatre.com