Playwright/director Morris Panych traps six touring classical musicians in five hotel rooms. Stirs in an intoxicating variety of secrets, agendas, sexualities, sexual innuendo and metaphors, while layering on a heaping helping of one-liners. The words are placed in the mouths of talented and versatile actors before being unleashed on a striking set with a multitude of doors for entrances, exits and slamming. It is the recipe for a perfect farce, and Sextet almost rises to ribald heights.
Classical music, and fore-fronted theme of Sextet, is all about structure and intricate mathematics used to evoke an emotional response, the beauty is in the variations and deviations. Sextet has, at its core, a relentless loony logic that propels it forward but the interlocking pieces sometimes stretch for a joke or a plot point. The emotional finale, where the truth about the complementary powers of music and sex is revealed, is well-earned but, if the audience had been prepped by uncontrollable laughter, it would have been cathartic.
Damien Atkins (Gay Heritage Project, London Road) is the closeted gay man who is our guide, the moral center, to the whirlwind of potential sexual liaisons that are possible in a sextet. His quips land with precision, his poetic expressions of unrequited love/lust endear, but the character, as written, eludes even Atkins' Streepian abilities. Perhaps there is a clue in the prelude music which consists of '80s pop hits reinterpreted as string-heavy classical pieces - if Sextet is set in the '80s, and there is a suit that appears towards the end to suggest it may be, it might explain the character's stunted sexuality and lack of carnal confidence.
As soon as that central storyline creates more questions than comedy, the other loose ends unravel and distract from the overall giddiness. A more propulsive farce would skip blithely over the inconsistencies and disarm doubts with laughter. Bruce Dow (Pig, Of a Monstrous Child) has charisma to spare as a poly-amorous, hideously attired in sight gag outfits, husband with hidden emotional depth. Somehow his sonorous tones sparkle and an extended interaction with Atkins is a comic gem of sexual discomfort. Much of the audience would eagerly sign up for one of the character's "tantric music" classes, the character may have small testicles but he is ballsy.
In many places the dialogue overlaps or becomes harmonies, a fugue-like structure that echoes the Schoenberg piece referenced, and it is as blissful as when the misunderstandings begin to pile up and collide. The timing doesn't always gell but the balance of speed and clarity is just within reach. Laura Condlin's feisty but flawed sexual aggressor spits out, "Love isn't destiny, it's an accident. With casualties," and gets a huge laugh from deep pain. Dow toys with the loaded Schoenberg title "Kristallnacht" and the reference resonates with the character's Klinefelter syndrome and sexuality, to spin tragedy and horror into comedy.
The dim-witted sex object in this farce is male, and Matthew Edison is all wide eyes and slapstick sex appeal. He almost sells the character's goofy masturbatory habits as more than a sight gag and contrivance in service of the plot. The sharp-witted sex object, Rebecca Northan, moves with brisk business-like precision and is as in control as Atkins' character is lost. Jordan Pettle's genesis as donated sperm sets up a roundelay of semen extractions and exchanges. Gender and sexuality becomes fluid as does not, apparently, befit classical musicians. Edison, in pursuit of Condlin and fleeing Atkins, asks, "What if I were a gay man who liked vaginas?"
"You mean like a rock musician?" snaps back Condlin garnering gales of laughter from the audience for a limp non sequitur. Penises are objects of procreation, comic relief and fascination, but it is the vaginas who rule this show.
All of the characters express increasingly bleak but comic opinions of sex and rarely is it considered for purely pleasurable reasons. The only ecstasy is to be found in the musical meeting of minds that the sextet achieves in performance. And that is where the ecstasy in Sextet is to be found, virtuoso performers whipping an almost-baked script into a tasty diversion.
Sextet continues until Sun, Dec 14 at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. tarragontheatre.com