Oh what a tangled web we weave when we stray form the truth. And tangled indeed are the relationships in the exciting psycho-sexual thriller “Tom at the Farm by the extraordinary Canadian writer Michel Marc Bouchard which opened Thursday at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
It’s taut, it’s tense, it’s terrifying – and it’s terriffic. Gripping from the get-go, the tension never lets up.
In its simple form, it’s a tale of a young man, Tom, who visits the home of his recently dead lover to attend the funeral. It’s a dreary farmhouse inhabited by a mother who didn’t know her son was gay, or of Tom’s existence, and a brutal but enigmatic surviving son who does. Tom is literally strong-armed into concocting the tale of her son's female lover, Natalie, to spare the mother from the truth. But the relationship between Tom and the sadomasochistic sibling quickly becomes more complicated than the plot of Downton Abbey (with which this show bears absolutely no resemblance) and the homo-erotic content turns up to fever pitch as the two men grapple, then slow dance, then – well you get the picture. Tom decides there is a place for him here. And then the seemingly fictional Natalie arrives ion the scene.
It’s all pretty dark – almost horror story dark. That’s not to say that it isn’t without humour; the scenes involving Natalie are broadly comic, an island in a sea of almost oppressively intense drama.
So that is what Tom at the Farm is about – sort of. Perhaps only later as you are leaving the theatre, for this is the kind of production you will want to talk about and dissect – will you realize it’s a tightly woven construct almost entirely about lies and lying. For each of the characters is living a complex fiction, heightened in this moment by the grief that has overtaken the household. In the final moments of the play as it lurches headlong in to the surreal, we are left wondering, in fact, just what we can believe and what we can’t.
If this sounds like an intellectual exercise, so be it. But it’s also highly approachable theatre with as many twists and turns as you can expect from an hour and forty-five minutes in a darkened theatre. The spare set convincing conjures up the strange rural environment in which urbanite Tom finds himself. Its downright creepiness seems perfect. Young Jeff Lillico, who plays fish out of water Tom, is also near perfection with a high-geared performance that runs the gamut from grief to fear to lust very convincingly. It’s a bravura performance that almost steals the show. Production values, as is usually the case with Buddies’ shows, are polished.
Whether you would call this queer theatre – the themes are decidedly rooted in gay culture but there is something much larger going on here - or not, this one should do well, perched as Buddies is on the edge of Toronto’s gay village. It runs until May 10. Go see it if you can.
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre presents
TOM AT THE FARM
by MICHEL MARC BOUCHARD
translation by LINDA GABORIAU
directed by EDA HOLMES
starring ROSEMARY DUNSMORE, CHRISTINE HORNE, JEFF IRVING, & JEFF LILLICO
set design CAMELLIA KOO
costume design MICHAEL GIANFRANCESCO
lighting design REBECCA PICHERACK
sound design JOHN GZOWSKI
Box Offcie 416 975 8555 or buddiesinbadtimes.com
12 Alexander Street, Toronto..