Christmas Eve – a woman walks into a cafe to see her friend, who also happens to be her husband’s mistress, sitting alone at a table. A confrontation ensues – one-sided, in which the wife talks and the mistress listens, reacting only via facial expressions or laughter. The play from 1889 by August Strindberg is a mere ten minutes long, but is so easily open to interpretation, to variances and nuances, that the variations Theatre Rusticle present under the direction of Allyson McMackon could be endless.
Set in the 1950s and originally presented with a cast of three (Liza Balkan, Viv Moore, Lucy Rupert) this most recent adaptation of the play runs with the addition of Chala Hunter and Andrya Duff, allowing even more variations as each actress takes turns playing either the wife or the mistress with the use of simple props such as a hat or a shopping bag full of presents.
The variations range from sweet and naive to bitter and pained; Moore (my friend and neighbour) offers the mistress as demon early on in one of the funniest interpretations; while Hunter and Duff, in a scene choreographed by Simon Fon, give us a full-on WWF-worthy knock-down drag-out cat fight complete with hair pulling and face scratching. Sure, it’s slightly predictable, but how else do you create momentum in a show that is the same dialogue over and over? Besides it was brilliantly executed and completely fun to watch. As was the delightful slipper dance scene. More poignantly, some variations appear to verge on emotional breakdown as the wife details how the mistress, without any contact or communication, seems to have inserted herself into the wife’s very soul.
While the bulk of the dialogue centres around a (slightly updated) version of Strindberg’s original play, McMackon has wisely added a few scenes of additional dialogue that give the characters more depth and empathy, such as each actor in the role of the mistress remembering their first kiss, or a scene where the wife runs around the stage as the other actors dance about, begging them to stop repeating the same sad story – after all, the work, written in 1889, is still relevant today.
In fact, I desperately wanted a variation where wife and mistress commiserated, said “ahhh, to hell with him and his stupid slippers with the tulip embroidery” and shared a drink while they trashed dear husband and his philandering ways. But Strindberg’s original theme remains clear; despite the wife’s claims of inner strength, or the audience’s hope she will achieve some form of self-actualization – family – home and family, come first. Has she fought for her man and won, or is she the sad loser headed home to the man who cheated on her?
The Stronger Variations runs at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until December 7th.