Monday, November 17, 2014


Six musicians are stranded by a blizzard in their motel with only their instruments, each other and their secrets to keep them warm. Where will everyone sleep when everyone is sleeping with everyone else? Underscored by their struggles to come to terms with their failing careers, failing marriages and unfulfilled desires, the sextet tries to make a set-list for a show that they know won’t happen. How long can they keep their composure before everything they’ve kept hidden comes into play?

                                                                     Tarragon website

Music has long been considered beneficial in enhancing performance and cognitive skills … more recently music has even been shown to strengthen the immune system and bring back memory loss to the elderly…
sex; which aside from its obvious benefits, can produce… complete dysfunction, confused brain activity, and even, quite possibly, a compromised immune system…

It seemed only natural, then, to put these two types of human experience together into one piece. After all, both take practice.
                                                         Morris Panych - Director's Notes                                                                                                      

   photos by  Cylla von Tiedemann  set & costumes by Ken MacDonald

Arnold Schoenberg’s works were classified as degenerate music by Nazi Germany. As a touchstone for his latest play, Sextet, Morris Panych has used references to Schoenberg’s compositions in order to create a complex analogy to fleeting, at times atonal episodes in an ordinary motel, comprised by many fleeting moments, making up six separate - fleeting - lives. 

Damien Atkins & Bruce Dow

What starts out as a light comedy, reminiscent of the quick, urbane repartee one finds in Noel Coward’s Private Lives, the lives of six stranded musicians become anything but private in this ninety-minute tour de force.

A powerful ensemble delivers the rapid-fire dialogue of the opening scenes with impeccable timing and characterization, and then they move seamlessly and gradually into a very layered and dramatic ending that both enlightens and provokes through a touching meditation on the sex-capades of a half dozen very distinct personalities.

Bruce Dow & Rebecca Northan

Jordan Pettle as Otto gives an authoritarian tone to his character and manages a complex relationship to love and heteronoramtive provocation with a fine sense of both comedy and parodic sincerity. Bruce Dow as Gerrard, as the omni-sexual monk-like figure, presides over all of the erotic antics with a beautiful bumbling sense of the serene and the silly. His frequently gender bent costumes, at one point described by Gerrard as non-dress-like, are decidedly dress-like, and beautifully conceived by designer Ken MacDonald. MacDonald’s engaging set gives the overall playing space a farcical feel from the outset, and well serves Morris Panych’s tightly woven script and direction as these kooky lovelorn characters cavort in confusing and comical contortions from room to room to room to room to room to room…
Laura Condlln & Damien Atkins

Laura Condlln as Sylvia is a wonderful blend of sincerity and muddled reserve as she becomes a calmly anxious conduit for forms of sexuality and sensual camaraderie no one seems to fully understand, both on and off the stage. Matthew Edison as Dirk plays the charming and sexy ‘het’ male whose self-assured, yet alarmingly nerve-racking het ‘ness’ flips in and out of farcical triangles that aid in bringing all of the characters together in complicated ways. Rebecca Northan’s Mavis, as Gerrard’s scheming wife, brings a strong self-assured, nun-like quality to her decidedly non nun-like behaviour as she becomes the through line to the final complexity of this very procreative text.

Having very little knowledge of Catholicism myself, I was told after the play ended by my theatre companion that evening that St. Gerrard is the patron saint of expectant mothers, thus a suitable partner to Mavis’s sexually active maternally motivated maneuvers through the lives of five unsuspecting musicians. 

Jordan Pettle & Laura Condlln

Perhaps the performance that brings it all together, as a kind of queer cohesive faintly harmonizing strategy, is the marginalized gay character, Harry - played by Damien Atkins with a powerful movement from lighthearted farcical tones to a commanding narrator like presence at the end. With a kind of hapless Harry stock quality, Atkins gives the overall piece a kind of passive, sexually hesitant aggression and blustery charm that achieves both comedy and pathos in a single sentence, a single movement across the stage. His star turns range from concealed full frontal encounters with his secret paramour, to frigid camaraderie in a blizzard-drenched parking lot. Atkin’s layered stage presence drives home all of the playwright’s central metaphors around music, sex, and art - and the hateful degeneracy that certain historical movements have imposed upon identity, sexuality, and self-expression. By the end of the play music and sex become one glorious mismatched conundrum that the current Tarragon ensemble for this premiere production have crafted into a beautiful and engaging composition.


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