Tom at the Farm: sex, death, comedy and bipolar poetry
by Drew Rowsome - Photos by Jeremy Mimnagh
Lies and deception can set the stage for a comedic farce that sparkles and spins on cases of mistaken, or misappropriated, identity. Or lies and deception can lead to dark Canadian Gothic guilt, violence and horror. In Tom at the Farm, the two classical forms, two extremes, co-exist.
When Tom's lover is killed in a car accident, Tom feels compelled to journey to the family farm that the never-named partner left years ago for the funeral. Tom's gayness, like the son/brother/lover's, is a deep dark secret. But the family has secrets of its own.
Playwright Michel Marc Bouchard piles on the bipolar poetry and plot, while director Eda Holmes illustrates it all with subtle, and not so subtle, effects and movements that are kitchen sink melodrama as choreography. Tom works in advertising where he is known as Mr Synonym, which allows his narrative monologues to flow, then overflow, into flights of fancy. And every character is struggling to put the best possible version of their truth in the foreground, obscuring or distancing the ugly blemishes of truth.
Jeff Lillico (Cinderella) as Tom is achingly vulnerable before he slides into the madness of small town life, mores and calving. His latent masochistic streak is ably matched by Jeff Irving as the hunky, frequently shirtless, brother who can't decide whether to fuck or fight. Their dance of desire and anger is literalized in a rhumba that perches on the precipice of the divide between high comedy and Grand Guignol horror. Lillico is a raw nerve barely holding it together while Irving is a bundle of repression ready to explode. The combination is incendiary.
Christine Horne spins comic gold out of a plot device and, as the voice of mercenary reason, points out that she is not in the bucolic countryside but rather trapped in Green Acres meets Persona meets Brokeback Mountain meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Rosemary Dunsmore is the mother who begins as an object of pity, a dithering comical mess of denial, before confronting reality and wresting control by wielding the truth. Dunsmore is extraordinarily powerful in the moment that should have been the climax of Tom at the Farm. Unfortunately there are a few more climaxes to come and Lillico's chilling final moments, and he is pitch perfect and palpably agonized, are undone by sheer exhaustion on the audience's part.
The passions fuelling Tom at the Farm are big and writ large. That they occasionally tip over into camp was inevitable and the comedy helps right that balance. As the mother reminds us, at a funeral there is always someone who is so overcome with grief that they burst out laughing. And that laughter feels good. Tom at the Farm won't necessarily make an audience feel good, but it will make them feel.
Tom at the Farm continues until Sun, May 10 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St. buddiesinbadtimes.com