Our first glimpse into Lascaux, Kevin O’Leary’s suspense thriller, is an image from the famous French cave drawings that give it its name: primitive beasts, a large charcoaled bull. Simon (Josh Brassard) has drawn these animals from memory; as a child, over 40 years ago, it was he and his friend Marcel (J.P. Guimont) who discovered the Lascaux drawings. Now, in 1983, traumatized Simon sketches bulls in a mental institution, while Marcel has gained fame for the discovery. And what will happen now that Simon’s psychiatrist, Katherine (Mary Fraser), has summoned Marcel to the institution? Secrets abound. Everyone has somewhere dark to descend. There’s an excellent wine cellar under Katherine’s office. What unfolds, in Lascaux, is part psychological thriller, part noir-tinged melodrama, and — this being France — part wine tasting. Stephanie Ross directs the world premiere production, at Mayo Street Arts.
“He calls you his ‘treasure,’” Katherine tells Marcel, smiling brightly, but Marcel is on edge. He bends to smell Simon’s largest bull mural (painted by Brian O’Leary), which is the striking centerpiece of the set, positioned in the proscenium. The mural’s two panels open up cleverly to become Simon’s room, as if he is living in a secret little box. As Marcel reawakens bulls and a “man-bird” in Simon’s fevered rants, and as Marcel and Katherine elegantly parry, flirt, and drink one superb vintage after another, Ross’s blocking makes stylish use of space. Action moves well from Simon’s room, on the stage, down to Katherine’s office on the floor and, further down, the cavernous wine cellar (nicely distressed with cobwebs and a sprinkling of cave dust) to which they frequently adjourn.
His voice low, laconic, and brutal, Guimont juxtaposes well against Fraser, whose Katherine is funny and lively, her smile shot with light. As their revelations and the wine progress (without, oddly, much evidence of intoxication in either of them), Fraser navigates nicely between vivacious, coy, witty, and vulnerable. As Simon, speaking in fragments, Brassard goes all out with pathos and intense mannerisms of trauma, shaking, twitching, shouting. He is most affecting when he dials down Simon’s physicality, as he might do a little more often, letting us see the flickering of hidden things in his eyes.
The central mysteries and symbols of Lascaux are compelling, and O’Leary’s writing has many strong moments — many about the act and artifact of drawing: Katherine recounts to Marcel, “Simon tells me the line is the way to the truth,” and Simon shows some interesting glints of intention as he instructs Marcel to “draw the horns first.” Simon’s monologues, filled with lyrically disjointed phrases and images, sometimes feel unfocused, and might be more succinctly sequenced in their reveals. O’Leary might also mete out Marcel’s true nastiness a little more gradually, might make his gratuitous abuse of an underling (on a great chunky 1980’s mobile phone) a little less of a trope. But the script nails many truly creepy moments — as when Marcel opens his trench coat to display its furry lining, beckons Katherine or Simon close to touch, and intones, with Guimont’s excellent gallows-deadpan, “It’s rabbit.”
As the night wears on and tensions spike, some scenes could bear some distillation (like an extended forest search scene), but as the three search for beasts, treasure, or, ultimately, forgiveness, they certainly don’t lack for drama. Lascaux may even, at times, veer toward melodrama in its tropes and villainies. But it speaks with fervor and, at its best, good strong poetry, as it goes into the dark to see what is drawn there.
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