Centaur Theatre review: Triplex Nervosa

Triplex landlady, Tass, seeks advice and payment from Reb Aaron. Photo: Andrée Lanthier

The soft lyrics crooning behind the opening scene of Triplex Nervosa tell us the characters we are about to meet are “looking for shelter from the storm.”

Marianne Ackerman’s new play is a farcical, gently satiric slice of Montreal life in Mile End, the still sought after “melting pot on ice” where Anglophones, Francophones, immigrants and Chassidim rub shoulders, at least metaphorically, and try to conduct business and pleasure while respecting one another’s spaces.

These days the architecture is often in need of renovation and gentrification is in full swing. This is the crux of the matter as the play opens on the young proprietress Tass and her buddy, a “Russian” immigrant of dubious origins, discussing plans to evict the tenants who stick like glue. Tass (Holly Gauthier-Frankl) complains to her lanky accomplice, Rakie Ur (Karl Grabosas) that they are “getting away with murder”, paying very low rents.

Tass’s triplex is just “ten minutes from the financial district” but that has no effect on her financial situation. Somehow she’s come to own this white elephant but lives in a basement apartment near the big O and she’s maxed out on all five credit cards. This is why she desperately needs to get rid of Mr. Fishbaum on the third floor, in depression over the loss of his son to an overdose.

Under Fishbaum is the “separated” but not divorced Frenchman who can’t seem to move out, although he’s told Tass that eventually he will. Her only option is to sell the bottom floor, which introduces us to the spoiled “lower Westmount” 20-something, Alisha Tate (Kayleigh Choinière), who’s looking for a place to get over her recent lover.

Meanwhile Tess’ accomplice, the Russian immigrant with a knack for plumbing, agrees to help her get Fishbaum out.

Thus begins the intrigue: What happened to Fishbaum and who is responsible? Will Tass sell? Will the tenants leave? And who will come to her rescue? Fishbaum’s suspicious American brother, who arrives on the scene? Rakie? Alisha? Reb Aaron, the previous proprietor?

The antics that ensue include a howlingly funny and loveable female Francophone cop of stately proportions with a yen for pizza, played by Cat Lemieux.

The set is simply ingenious and has multi-faceted and multi-level purposes. One apartment in the triplex “triples” as all three floors with three doors that partly hide kitchens where Rakie works on plumbing, bathrooms with bathtubs in which not one but two Fishbaums seemingly disappear, and bedrooms where torrid sex can be heard more than seen. Characters run up and down the winding fire escape (stairs to heaven?) while others run around trying to avoid bumping into one another. The floor magically opens up to a table, a café in NDG where Tass and Rakie meet secretively to avoid the busier and more popular iconic venues of Mile End, the Social Club and Open ‘da Night.

In Act II, the middle of the stage opens up to become a car that the couple get into and plan their escape. Things fall from on high, including lingerie and a cello that become part of the dénouement.

Like the set, characters (all but Tass and Rakie) take on more than one role with men and women changing gender and personality, moving from reality to dream and fantasy, sometimes addressing the audience or disappearing among them.

It’s not an easy play to follow if you’re in the least bit hard of hearing. The accented characters speaking Franglais are funny—if you can hear them. This viewer sometimes missed the punch lines.

Holly Gauthier-Frankel inhabits the lifestyle and values of the unstable, hysterical, frenetic Tass, trying to overcome her past and build her future on shaky ground. We get to know Tass and her team and root for her in her battle to hold on to her hot property.

Ackerman softly and lovingly pokes fun at the ethnic diversity and languages that make up our Montreal. We see in these characters bits of ourselves, our friends and neighbours, our colleagues and the people we pass on the streets every day, and we are reminded once again of what motivates us to live, work, and thrive in this city we call home.

The world premiere of Triplex Nervosa continues at Centaur till May 24.

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