Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Nicholas Campbell and Maria Vacratsis in Through the Leaves

Through the Leaves is the mysterious title of Franz Xaver Kroetz’s play that has been staged by The Company Theatre and is now playing at the Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space.

The play provides two meaty roles for actors in the characters of a butcher named Martha (Maria Vacratsis) and a factory worker named Otto (Nicholas Campbell). If one were to call the play kitchen-sink drama to indicate its gritty realism, one should add that the sink is filthy. It is literally filthy from the tripe that Martha handles and the actions of the characters from oral sex (under a towel) and drunken abuse of Martha.

Martha runs a successful butcher shop specializing in offal. She has a sitting room attached to the shop and an apartment upstairs. Her problem is that she is in her 50’s, very plain and very lonely. She meets a man, virile and attractive in his own way and she wants to connect with him.

She prepares some caviar snacks and invites him over. She wants to savour every minute with Otto and she starts keeping a diary. She wants him to do the same. She uses all her charm and humanity to develop a relationship with him. She offers him money and a job and even takes him to a ball. In short, she is prepared to do almost anything to keep him, as she tells him and her diary.

Otto is not quite the diary keeping variety. In fact he is a crude drunkard who tells her that she is so homely that he stays with her because he feels sorry for her. He demands oral sex from her and feels quite noble because he puts a pillow on the floor for her to kneel on. He is unfaithful and words like Neanderthal, trash, human garbage are a propos to describe him. If he has any redeeming features, aside from his penis (if one can call that a redeeming feature) and human form, I could not find any.

The plot of the play revolves around the deteriorating relationship between the two people. She keeps trying to put up with him despite his increasingly despicable behaviour and he continues on his merry way without any conception of his conduct.

Half-way thorough this short play (about 75 minutes) I started wondering about the punch line. Something has to be revealed about one of them or something must happen to provide one of the Aristotelian essentials of a play: a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning and the middle are there and done well. What about a satisfactory conclusion?

Martha being a butcher, we see her handling some bloody offal and we also see some knives and a meat cleaver. At the beginning of the play there was a barking dog that Otto threatened with a knife and which bit him. Surely the dog or the met cleaver will re-appear. They do not.

Despite all her efforts to keep him Otto walks out of Martha’s life and leaves her sitting alone. She is as lonely as ever and no doubt misses him. A successful but unattractive woman is reduced to wanting to live with a creep rather than alone.

Despite the rather unsatisfactory ending, the play does have two superb roles for actors and in the hands of Campbell and Vacratsis we have two marvelous and riveting performances. Our attention never flags as we watch these two masters of their craft delineate Kroetz’s characters. The play is superbly directed by Philip Riccio.

Kroetz may be telling us, I suppose, that sometimes there is no punch line or cathartic end in real life or in the theatre, even if there is a meat cleaver hanging on the wall.

Through the Leaves by Franz Xaver Kroetz continues until October 3, 2010 at the Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

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