No book editor in 1954 would have published fantasy stories of sensational crime involving teenage lesbianism, violent, fetish imaginings and a grisly premeditated murder.
But flesh and blood people have a way of defying society's codes of conduct and no one could have predicted the insanity that revolved around the Juliet Hulme/Pauline Parker murder.
And it is all grist for the mill in Folie Ă Deux, playwright Trevor Schmidt's hot-blooded new work running until Sunday, March 21 at Catalyst Theatre.
By any standards, Folie Ă Deux (Shared Madness) is an incredibly disconcerting experience that makes you squirm in the darkened theatre. The characters are tense and wary, almost like panthers circling each other. For years their booby-trapped emotions have lain dormant just waiting to explode. When they do, they almost immolate themselves.
Folie Ă Deux arouses our moral ambiguities about lesbianism and our instinctive repugnance involving planned kills. Taking a life is society's biggest taboo, and is especially shocking when the murderers are two adolescents living in a sexualized fantasy completely removed from reality. But Folie also compels us to look beyond our certainties, beyond our preconceived notions and take a hard look at how surprising and complex life is.
This 90-minute two-hander mostly works because of the raw, honest and volatile performances of Kristi Hansen (Juliet/Anne) and St. Albert Children's Theatre alumna Vanessa Sabourin (Pauline/Hillary). Under the astute directing hand of Sandra M. Nicholls, they make love one minute and flay themselves and one another raw the next.
The action revolves around the present day at a badly weathered British riding academy that sags around the edges. Production designer Tessa Stamp outfits a disorderly tack room with leather saddles, lanterns, a pitchfork and assorted objects haphazardly strewn on a bench.
Decades earlier the real Pauline, 16, and Juliet, 15, were first acquainted in New Zealand. The pair forged an obsessive bond and when threatened with separation, murdered Honoria, Pauline's mother. At the trial, the adolescents were convicted, sentenced to five years and released on the condition they never see each other again.
After her prison sentence is complete, the lower-class Pauline painfully forges a new life for herself as the gum-booted Hillary Nathan, eking out a living mucking about stables. Instead, the upper crust Juliet has refashioned herself as Anne Perry, the poised and polished renowned crime writer.
An über-shellacked Anne visits the stoop shouldered Hillary. She wants something. Although they have had decades to rebuild their lives, their defence mechanisms crumble right before our eyes as they replay their past in flashbacks.
Hansen is delightful as the narcissistic snob you love to hate and Sabourin's loose cannon range of emotions is daunting. It is to Nicholls' credit that she keeps the momentum taut, never allowing either actor to dominate.
But despite the power of a beautifully crafted story, solid direction and heart-stopping performances, Folie Ă Deux left me untouched. Despite all the duo's explorations of sexuality, some of their motivations seemed unclear and neither showed remorse for the brutal murder they committed. Both women, who now share little except lusty teenage delusions, have never actually grown up and that is their ongoing tragedy and ours.
Folie Ă Deux<br />The Maggie Tree<br />Running until Sunday, March 21<br />Catalyst Theatre, 8529 Gateway Blvd.<br />Tickets: Call 780-420-1757 or visit www.tixonthesquare.ca