Permanence: the art of a sexual/emotional relationship
by Drew Rowsome- Photographs by Lyon Smith and Hannah Price
When the kindly usher warns in a hushed voice that the show you are about to see contains "full frontal male nudity," one is either tantalized or skeptical.
When the show you are about to see stars an exceptionally hunky leading man who is famous for playing opposite another actress ex of Prince Harry in London, one is either tantalized or skeptical.
Fortunately Permanence, and the aforementioned nude hunk Ludovic Hughes, do not disappoint. And while Hughes actual nudity is quite appealing, it is the emotional nudity that he brings to his role that is even more memorable.
Permanence is a variation on the classical fairy tale of the uptight professional being seduced, liberated and educated by a freewheeling artist. The twist is that the sex object is male and that the professional's uptightness takes the form of sexual compulsion and an inability to feel emotions. The metaphor that creating a relationship is much like painting on a canvas, is cleverly done and playwright Cyd Casados has some witty dialogue. The one-liner that leads to the first blackout is particularly funny and pointed.
But Casados also has a lot on her mind - sex versus love, monogamy versus open relationships, madness versus sanity, control versus letting go, and upending the traditional male/female roles - an audience is familiar with - and the drama that follows is more intense than comical. It all builds, in unpredictably predictable ways, to a climax that would be shattering if only one of the metaphors had been integrated less obviously and without explanation. The other two strands of the finale are shatteringly powerful and provide a satisfying ending.
The characters feint, fight and do a lot of kissing and intimate interaction. Permanence begins mid-sex act - or to use the preferred term in this production: mid-fuck - and from there the pair dress and undress to re-dress in another metaphor for how one builds, or avoids, a relationship. That the interludes where this happens, between the dialogue scenes, are scored by bass-heavy dance remixes of lyrically commenting vintage hits and accompanied by the glow of lights evoking a nightclub, is more tenuous. It works beautifully as a visual and metaphorically, but doesn't connect to the plot or themes.
Hughes is marvellous. Intense when he needs to be but with a puppy dog playful side that charms effortlessly. And it doesn't hurt that he looks spectacular with his shirt off, which it, and other articles of clothing, often are. Because he is such a sex object, and the one desiring a traditional roled relationship, he gets more empathy than perhaps the script and director Hanna Price intended. Samantha Michelle, as the uptight pseudo-nymphomaniacal medical doctor who makes a near-fatal misjudgment, has to work hard to create a character who is kooky and vibrant instead of a femme fatale. She almost does but is undone by just a few too many twitches and glazed stares signifying her inner turmoil. But then Michelle's role is not as relatable: Hughes starts nude and emotionally naked before becoming Prince Charming, while Michelle begins as a horny Holly Golightly and evolves into a damaged defensive Albee-esque Martha.
Or, I have to admit, that opinion may be coloured by my internalized sexist attitudes. The woman, and her male arm candy, behind me, intrigued by the promised full frontal male nudity, conducted a lively pre-show discussion about penis size and its affect on the male psyche. Post-show she proclaimed that Permanence was the most extraordinary thing she had ever seen. Perhaps the open-ended nature of the play's point of view allows for more interpretations than one person can bring to it. The shifting power games, and attempts to hang onto oneself while committing to or resisting coupledom, that Permanence explores are left open-ended, and are as realistically confusing as most relationships tend to be.
Permanence continues until Sunday, August 6 at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. tarragontheatre.com