Permanence is intimate and romantically charged, at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto
Permanence, produced and presented by Libby Brodie Productions, brings a taut, sexy drama to Tarragon Theatre. I felt deeply immersed in the world of the play, which was excellent on every level: the performances were grounded and honest, the script nimbly avoided the temptations of cliché, and the sound and lighting made significant contributions to the story.
Permanence opens with Rebecca (Samantha Michelle) and Steve (Ludovic Hughes) in the middle of a steamy one-night stand. There is full-frontal male nudity in the first scene, but it doesn’t feel sensational — Hughes and Michelle are so comfortable with their bodies, they made me feel comfortable, too. The nudity simply tells us what kind of world we’ve entered.
The rest of the play traces the development of Rebecca and Steve’s relationship along various twists and turns. Through the interactions of these characters and the recurring symbol of the butterfly, Permanence explores wider themes of change: what changes and what doesn’t, the struggle to change (or to change someone), and the residue that change leaves behind.
The plot may sound simple, but the play was extremely compelling. It was a pleasure to watch these characters’ lives unfold in ways that felt both authentic and surprising. When Rebecca loses her job and becomes Steve’s assistant, for instance, their dynamic changes in much subtler and more realistic ways than I expected.
Two-person plays require both actors to be equally strong, and I’m glad to report that Michelle and Hughes had great chemistry and gave powerful, vulnerable performances. Hughes was terrific as an amiable, good-natured artist trying to do his best, while Michelle excelled as the rather tormented medical student with a sexual appetite she couldn’t control.
I liked Permanence because it wasn’t afraid to confront the messiness of life and relationships. With that said, I’m uneasy about the plotline in which Rebecca has sex with one of her patients. (I seem to remember that he is also underage, though I could be mistaken.) No doubt the audience is meant to feel uneasy about this plotline, but it may have worked a little too well. The patient’s inability to consent, given his age and the power imbalance between him and Rebecca, left me uneasy and struggling to sympathize with Rebecca afterwards.
Structurally, Permanence skips forward through time, giving us only the key moments in Rebecca and Steve’s relationship. My friend Una particularly appreciated the way music and lighting play key roles during these transitions. Personally, I couldn’t stop looking at the set, which was an artist’s studio apartment in quirky bohemian disorder — a model ship, a stack of mugs, a hatbox with the hat on top. It felt like the kind of place where raw, intense things could happen.
Although Permanence is hardly the first play to connect sex, art, and identity, it uses these things to tell an absorbing and compelling story. This was a brave and fascinating show; the ending left me pinned to my seat.
- Permanence is playing until August 6, 2017, at Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave)
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8 pm, with weekend matinees at 2: 30 pm
- Tickets cost $22 and are available online or through the box office at 416-531-1827
- Audience Advisory: Recommended for ages 15+. Show contains strong language, full-frontal nudity, and adult themes.
Photo of Ludovic Hughes and Samantha Michelle by Lyon Smith