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Theatre @ York presents a new imagining of Theatre Rusticle’s critically acclaimed The Stronger Variations, inspired by Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s 1889 playette, The Stronger. Theatre Rusticle’s artistic director and York University alumna Allyson McMackon directs the production, running Nov. 10 to 16 in the Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre located on York University’s Keele campus.
Director Allyson McMackon at a rehearsal for The Stronger Variations. Photograph: Jeremy Mimnagh
Set in the late 1950s on Christmas Eve, The Stronger Variations examines the nature of betrayal, desire, love, loyalty and the “supposed-to-be’s” of the holiday season through the lens of both genders. Following the musical structure of a “theme and variation’, the show offers a kaleidoscope of viewpoints on what happens when spouses encounter their partners’ lovers on the fateful evening.
The Stronger Variations was produced in association with Harbourfront Centre in 2006 with three women alternately playing the Wife and the Mistress and three men playing the male counterparts, the Husband and the Lover. With the original director McMackon once again at the helm, the show is being recreated by a cast of 11 actors drawn from the fourth-year Acting Conservatory in York’s Department of Theatre.
Sarah Chahley (foreground) Andrea Carter both performing as the Mistress. Photograph: Jeremy Mimnagh
In this new production, each actor still has a turn as the betrayer and the betrayed in the shifting triangles among the protagonists. But with a larger cast, the ensemble has the opportunity to further develop the worlds within which the emotionally charged confrontations play out.
“One core question of the piece is: what does it mean to be strong?” said McMackon. “Who is stronger, the one in the marriage or the one outside of it? What does it mean to be a strong woman? A strong man? Does it matter?
“We discover that it doesn’t.” she said. “Our humanity is bound up with both strength and weakness; the ability to be fiercely loyal and to betray; the ability to be fearful and to confront our fears; the ability to try to recognize and act, and also fail to do so. These are the depths we’re plumbing in this show.”
Left to right: Jonathan LeRose and Christopher Oswald in a moment of anger between the Husband (left) and the Lover. Photograph: Jeremy Mimnagh
McMackon, who teaches movement and devised theatre at York University, takes a collaborative approach to direction, engaging the students in the process of collectively creating the text and movement.
“I’ve reset only a handful of the original scenes on this cast,” said McMackon. “The rest have been created from scratch. The Theatre @ York actor-creators bring fresh eyes and youthful perspectives to the relationship themes in the play, and that has led to a whole new version of the work.”
Simultaneously imaginative and practical, the creative process involves condensing or distilling the source text down to the most basic ideas and building characters around the archetypes found in the themes. The actors explore the physicality of these archetypes from their individual perspectives, in improvised situations. Variations on the scenes are created and then deepened.
Left to right: Alen Xhafa, Jonathan LeRose, Leighton Williams and Emilio Viera share exuberance in the role of the Lovers. Photograph: Jeremy Mimnagh
“What we have to work with is the source, the situation, the bodies and imagery of each performer, a curiosity about action and intention, and a desire to play,” McMackon said. “The production evolves from that. It’s an enormously rich and exciting experience – both for the performers and the audience.”
A talented team of undergraduate theatre students is handling all aspects of the production design and execution of The Stronger Variations. True to the period setting, the costumes by Dylan Bobier reflect a classic Christian Dior silhouette, and the versatile set by Laura Andrew gives a nod to the work of sculptor Alexander Calder, inventor of the mobile.
Left to Right: Andrea Carter, Sarah Chahley, Amanda Zhou, Jackie Todd, Kaya Bucholc are the many faces of the Wives. Photograph: Jeremy Mimnagh
Previews are Nov. 10 and 11 at 7:30pm. The play opens Nov 12 and runs to Nov. 16 with performances at 7:30pm nightly, plus matinees Nov. 13 and 15 at 1pm. Tickets are $17, or $12 for students and seniors. Preview tickets are $5. For tickets, contact the Box Office at 416-736-5888.