“Scene Around Town: Knives In Hens”
October 27, 2003

University theatre departments sometimes prove to be troves of rather curious treasures.
Only last week, the University of Toronto’s Graduate Drama Centre gave us a glimpse of what is sure to be one of the most provocative shows of 2004, when Marcus Youssef and Guillermo Verdecchia read from “The Adventures of Ali and Ali and the Axes of Evil” (at Passe Muraille in February-March).

Now the Drama Centre delivers David Harrower’s strange but fascinating “Knives in Hens,” a stark and archetypal piece about a Young Woman (Michelle Girouard) who marries William, the intense village ploughman and apparent horse-whisperer (Justin Conley).

The Young Woman’s world unravels (and reravels), however, after she is forced to take the farm’s wheat to the Miller (Scott Moore), a man hated by the villagers who regard him as an indolent parasite, skimming the top off the rewards of their labour.

Although this is by no means the fist remount of the 1995 award-winning drama, director Natalie Harrower draws some compelling performances from her actors in an often brutal production in the close quarters of the Glen Morris Studio Theatre.

Moore, who is hands-down the most talented male comedic actor not regularly working Equity gigs in Toronto, is cast against type as the Miller, and if this does not always work perfectly, it is worth watching this performer stretch himself in the role. Conley and Girouard, however, are well-suited to the bare-bones lyricism of playwright Harrower’s dialogue, and both revel in its Faulknerian aura of earthy—even loamy—eroticism and mysticism.

Girouard is particuarly magnetic, shifting slowly from a raw, almost formless, creature amazed at the world which surrounds her, to a cunning adulterer once William leaves her fallow. Somehow she continually gives the impression that she is holding something back, something unsaid, and it is hard to keep our eyes off of her.

With such performances, director Harrower has done well to keep much of the action close to us in the narrow playing space inches from the first row. This proximity, added to the simple staging, makes for an unrelenting presentation (neither Harrower offers any comic relief) and a sense that the inevitable is unfolding before us.

“Knives in Hens” is not the most comforting theatre you will see this fall—few harshly primal meditations on murder, lust, and the sacred are. But it manges to be simultaneously elusive, riveting, and disturbing, reason enough not to miss it.

“Knives in Hens” continues at the Glen Morris Studio Theatre until November 2. For tickets, call 416-978-7986.

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