sophie fabiillii & michelle alexander
Sophie Fabiillii’s The Philanderess, a Twenty-First Century adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play The Philanderer, is a hilarious farce that explores the depths of complexity that arise when one attempts to separate sex from love.
Charlotte, a Feminist with a PhD, has become famous for writing about her continent -hopping sexploits on her blog, The Philanderess. She and her fiancée, Grayson, have an adorable relationship grounded in friendship and respect, full of crossword puzzle tournaments and timed compromise races whenever they disagree. They have an open sexual relationship, to make room for the wok Charlotte does on the blog, but this also seems to be grounded in mutual respect, and transparency. Except, that Charlotte has a secret, and when he arrives at the resort in the Muskokas where Charlotte and Grayson are celebrating their commitment ceremony to being life partners, a farcical romp ensues.
Fabiillii’s writing is witty and smart and often leads her characters in the direction least expected, which gives the play a sense of freshness and buoyancy that breathes a new sense of relevance and immediacy into Shaw’s original story. Fabiillii’s acting, as Charlotte, captures beautifully the tone and pacing that makes these characters so captivating. She exudes strength and is filled with quirky nuances that ground her as an individual. Amos Crawley complements Fabiillii beautifully as Grayson, and gradually builds the escalation of his jealousy and anger over what he sees as Charlotte’s betrayal. Jakob Ehman is wonderful and hilarious as the dim, but very sweet, Julian, Charlotte’s secret lover.
There are seven major characters in Shaw’s original play, and Fabiilli uses six in hers. I am unconvinced that the mothers and Julian’s brother are needed in this version of the story. They further complicate the plot, which helps the farce along, but all the strongest, funniest and most farcical scenes are the ones with Ehman, Crawley and Fabiillii in some combination. Those scenes are so tightly constructed and performed, the others drag a bit in comparison, which impacts the punch of the farce. It’s also difficult having Ehman’s Julian and Suzanne Bennett’s Maria competing over which one has the hugest personality, when that detracts from the humour of the absurdity of Julian. Seth Drabinsky is lovely as Julian’s brother, Sylvie, but he is the least essential to the plot, and farces thrive on being svelte.
Director Michelle Alexander keeps the pace consistent and the energy intense throughout, with a great use of the Annex Theatre space.
In all, The Plilanderess is an exciting play from Sophie Fabiillii that not only adapts Shaw’s story, but builds on it smartly and creatively to make something new and original that can stand on its own.
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