UNIDENTIFIED HUMAN REMAINS AND
In some ways Brad Fraser’s 1989 success de scandale has not dated at all. A serial killer is brutally murdering women in a Canadian city (then Edmonton; here Vancouver). Teens and twenty-somethings (some turning thirty) agonize over the meaning(lessness) of life, struggle with their sexuality (gay and straight), go to bars and the gym, look and long for love, and take shelter in irony.
In other ways it has dated very badly. The explicit sexual language and behaviour that was shocking then is milder now than what you can see any night on cable. A dominatrix miming a blowjob, ho hum. A lesbian sex scene with bare breasts is pretty hot. But the gay sex—underpants on—not so much. And Fraser’s technique of overlapping and crisscrossing scenes as well as intercutting fragments of monologues seems just that: a technique. The play was never great but it did have a kind of daring freshness. Now that’s gone and what’s left requires some heavy lifting from a cast of young actors who don’t all have the necessary muscle.
Fraser focuses the play on roommates David (Rob Monk) and Candy (Kirsten Kilburn). David, gay and cynical, works as a waiter and has the emptiest life imaginable. Candy can’t decide whether she’s gay or straight and develops relationships with Jerri (Tara Pratt) from the gym and Robert (Kevan Kase) from the bar. David is followed around by teenage co-worker Kane (Joel Sturrock) who doesn’t know whether he’s gay or straight either. David’s friend Benita (Emilie Leclerc) is a dominatrix and psychic. His best friend Bernie (Sebastian Kroon) is just psycho. That’s not giving much away—Fraser telegraphs it before the midpoint of the first act.
No one is happy and hardly anyone is nice. I was rooting for Jerri and Candy because the men are all losers. But after they have sex once, Candy snubs Jerri and Jerri stalks her. And why does Candy act so archly when Kane comes by to see David? Still, they’re the best you’re going to get in this crowd, and both Kilburn and Platt (despite Jerri’s underdeveloped character) deliver solid, grounded performances. Kase does what he can with Robert who, as the Other Man, is little more than a cipher. I liked Kroon’s work, though I never believed Bernie for a second. Leclerc gets some nice laughs but Benita always seems more like a device than a character. And Sturrock so underplays Kane that he sometimes seems lobotomized.
The most problematical character and performance is Monk’s David. David is obnoxious and unlikable. He’s utterly sadistic at the expense of his supposed best (female) friend, Candy, when he should be trying to help her. So the actor has to be highly skilled, funny, and utterly vulnerable beneath the abrasive surface. He should also be very attractive in some fundamental way, as Kane indicates he is. Unfortunately, Monk is hardly any of the above. His over-emphatic acting neutralizes the comedy and alienates the audience that this central character needs to pull in.
Director Sabrina Evertt keeps the action moving so that the play is rarely boring, and she uses set designer Jergus Oprsal’s opaque upstage screens very nicely to produce a subtextual shadow-play of silhouettes behind the main action. But there’s only so much she can do with a script in which, even after three characters realize who the serial killer is—two of the women having been directly threatened by him—no one calls the cops.