Cathy is a stand-up comedian who, as her marriage unravels, is becoming a slumped-over depressive.
She’s not giving up her microphone, however. We first encounter the middle-aged mother in her living room, clutching the mike like an alcoholic with a bottle, half-whispering a monologue about people who respond to “how’s it going?” with “I can’t complain.”
“Can’t complain?” Cathy coughs, her face exploding in sudden surprise, then deflating into puzzlement, like she’s doing a fast-forward impression of an airbag. “I don’t think you’re trying hard enough!”
Someone Else is a new play by the actress Kristen Thomson, who plays Cathy with such intense, angry bitterness that you may find yourself looking away in embarrassment.
As a writer, Thomson is best known for her hit solo show, I, Claudia, in which audiences witnessed a divorce through the eyes of a precocious 12-year-old. Now, she’s penned a similar story from the grown-up perspective of a fortysomething couple with a daughter slightly older than Claudia. It’s darker, rougher and emotionally raw.
Cathy has become obsessed with the notion that her husband, an even-keeled doctor named Peter, is seeing “someone else” – a teenager she saw him talking to outside the community clinic where he works.
As it happens, Peter – played by the inscrutable Stratford Shakespeare Festival star Tom Rooney – does have a relationship with the girl, April (Bahia Watson), a live wire from a troubled background.
For much of Someone Else, you’re not sure if Peter does indeed have a sexual interest in the smitten, asymmetrically-haired 19-year-old, or is simply feeling paternal toward a woman who reminds him of himself when he was a young anarchist with a mohawk. (The connection turns out to be more complicated, however.)
As an actor, Rooney has perfected the art of playing hard to get: He can make unreadable almost unbearably charming. But his aloofness can also be maddening, and it is appropriately so here. Cathy is so vulgar and venomous in her fights with Peter – she’s traded the distance of punchlines for straight-on punches – that the audience initially sides with him 100 per cent. Eventually, however, you begin to understand how she has become so riddled with doubt, jealousy and frustration.
Unfortunately, Thomson’s script can be equally frustrating. She withholds information just long enough for suspense to become annoying – notably in a scene with the wheelchair-bound David (Damien Atkins). Her story jerks this way and that, and never settles on a form.
Director Chris Abraham goes with the unwieldiness, creating a production that unspools like a sickbed dream. Perhaps the most feverish moment sees Cathy have a total Michael Richards-style meltdown at the mike, as Peter runs in and out of the all-white set’s four doors, trying to answer a ringing telephone.
Like a few other scenes in the play, however, this lasts just a little longer than necessary and begins to feel indulgent. There’s something to be said for a hot mess of a play, though – this one, with its nearly unhinged performance, runs you through the wringer. Say what you will about its shortcomings, Someone Else really is something else.
Someone Else runs until Feb. 2.