THEATRE: Almost perfectly disturbing

Kids: You do, and you do, and you do for them. You clothe them, feed them and deny them certain basic human rights – like free will. And just how do they show their gratitude? They grow up and insist on moving out. Ingrates.

Meet Mathew: He is a parent who never went through the formality of actually having kids. One day he spots 12-year-old girl named Chloe being neglected by her father (that’s the way he sees it, anyway) and decides to give her the love she needs. The problem is, it’s not only the wrong kind of love, but way too much of it. He constructs a special room in his basement, kidnaps Chloe and keeps her under lock and key for the next several years. He rewards her with food and attention when she’s good and punishes her with violence when she’s bad. The problem is, neither we nor Chloe knows what’s going to set him off. Chloe knows she has to do whatever it takes to survive and looks for an opportunity for her escape. And several years later, escape she does. A happy ending? Not really – as this is where our story starts. Y’see, the cops want to know the identity of the creep who locked her up, but Chloe ain’t talking.

Enter a high-profile journalist who runs into Chloe at a local 7-Eleven. He needs a big story to ramp up his career and suddenly, Chloe starts talking. The problem is the journalist has to earn information with good behaviour, and there’s no telling what’s going to set her off.

Make no mistake: The Workshop West production An Almost Perfect Thing – on stage nightly at 7:30 p.m at La Cite Francophone – is an almost perfect play. A very smart script by Nicole Moeller doles out exposition out to characters and audience alike on a need-to-know basis. Present tenses, flashbacks, flash-forwards, wraparounds and foreshadowing disguised as real-life inanities keep the audience guessing.

And with the predatory nature of even the most benign characters and the sterility of the set, I found myself wondering: If Stanley Kubrick had opted for the stage instead of the theatre, would his productions look like this? Chloe insists that breathing is the key to control (Kind of like Nietzsche teaching a Lamase class). Like Kubrick’s film Lolita, the lines between predator and prey blur ever so intensely – to the point where one is left wondering if the encounter at the 7-Eleven really was a “meet-cute,” which is the cinematic term for the point at which when protagonist meets his love interest. And when I use the noun “sterility” to describe Daniela Masellis’s quadrilaterally-obsessed set, I don’t mean it as a slag: Quite the opposite. Like a Frank Lloyd Wright house, there is a special aesthetic to the negative space. I found myself wondering if she hadn’t tinkered with a Super City kit when she was little. And damned if I didn’t see the word “Axe” spelled out in one of the gobos.

Part of the fun is picking out the influences. I’ve already mentioned Kubrick and Wright (And Super City for that matter). And of course the play owes a big debt to John Bowles’ The Collector. And listening to Darrin Hagen’s minimalist and ethereal under scoring lets us know that there’s more than one Phillip Glass disc in his record collection.

Michael Clark’s direction gives the production a touch of whimsy once in a while to keep the play from becoming too grave.

The emsemble is very good too (Tess Degenstein and Frank Zotter portray Chloe and The Journalist respectively), but it is David Ley’s turn as Mathew that is most effective. His cadence and body English are that of a real-life nebbish creep. Most astonishing is the fact that Ley was a last week replacement, due to the member of the original cast falling ill to a serious medical calamity. Of all the things in this play, it will be his desperate desire to be loving and lovable that will affect me for days to come, and I hope the Sterling Jury will take note.

Shows run nightly at 7:30 p.m. at La Cite Francophone. Tickets are $15-$20 on sale here or at the door.