Quantum Theatre's mantra sounds like a variation of a Gilbert and Sullivan ditty: "Let the venue fit the play." It's produced mixed results, but this time the match is perfect.
A recently closed restaurant's uninteresting wooden and plastic decor easily turns into a cookie-cutter suburban tract house symbolizing the bland conformity of contemporary life that's central to the theme of British playwright Jez Butterworth's "Parlour Song."
Turns out the Brits have their Levittowns and Hankey Farms just like Americans, but there's a twist. In the U.S., the ticky-tacky boxes are thrown up on former pastures, but in Britain, usually a piece of history has to go to make way for the new and charmless.
This is Mr. Butterworth's point, expressed by Ned, a demolition crew boss: "Everything is disappearing." He and wife Joy are neighbors of Dale, an upbeat fellow who owns a chain of car washes. His house is a mirror image of theirs even down to the same crack in the ceiling.
It's Dale who notices Ned's depression and paranoia. Perhaps he's been spending too much time in the "buffer zone" safe from the explosions he detonates or the constant destruction is sapping his soul. Exhausted by insomnia because he's afraid to face his dreams, Ned is sleepwalking through life, more specifically, his marriage.
"Parlour Song" (the title might refer to a more genteel era when homes had rooms for welcoming guests), is constructed of metaphors, not the least of which is the character of Ned himself, a symbol of how the loss of a rich past can untether society. And a missing birdbath reflects the destruction of nature trampled by the bulldozers of "progress."
In the understated and at times subtle direction of Martin Giles, the three characters slowly grow more interesting and ultimately tragic in their own little ways. Joy, played by Sarah Silk with smoldering emotions that could be resentment or simply boredom, waffles on her future with Ned.
Dale, who claims to be Ned's "mate," beds Joy but is unwilling or unable to move on from his wife and two kids despite her ardor -- or is it desperation? Brendan McMahon's Dale isn't a bad guy or a stupid one; he just likes to keep things on the light side and beat a hasty retreat when convenient.
Ned is a harder bloke to fathom. What's really eating him? Is he impotent or just too removed from life to embrace his wife? And why does he keep losing things like gold cuff links or a lawn mower? Cameron Knight brings a sympathetic earnestness to a character who does want to please -- a dinner scene with Joy is a standout -- or to destroy somebody like he levels buildings.
Mr. Giles takes advantage of designer Tony Ferrieri's simple reworking of the restaurant's floor plan that comes with a view of trees behind its rear windows creating a sense of suburbia. The director then isolates the three characters from time to time to comment on their loneliness. Scott T. Nelson further enhances the sense of emptiness with his adroit lighting.
Mr. Butterworth gives us enigmas with plenty of variations that at times make it hard to figure out just what's really going on. His problem could be that the old suburban ennui has been examined so well for so long, especially by Americans such as Richard Yates, John Cheever and John Updike, that he wanted to bring an air of Harold Pinter menace to his work but settled for mystery instead.
Quantum's production of "Parlour Song" intrigues and challenges us throughout its 90-minute duration unfolding in such a comfortable suburban setting that we all feel right at home, but should we?