Ed Wightman and Glen Hazeldine in Transparency | York Theatre

I was restless. And not in a good way. It’s how I felt for maybe the first half-hour or so of Suzie Miller’s Transparency, directed by Seymour artistic director Tim Jones, in a ground-up, homegrown production.

Simon (Glen Hazeldine) has a deep, dark secret, his discomfort with which is apparent within minutes. But what is it? Amy Mathews is Jessica, his wife of one year. She’s hankering for motherhood. Simon’s not so sure. He isn’t ready. It’s not him. It’s all to do with his secret. What the hell is it?! (Let’s hope he’s not a child molester. Pedophilia is so passe.) Anna Lise Phillips is Camille, Simon’s strident, uptight workmate. She has a child she neither wants nor loves. She has a husband, Lachlan (Ed Wightman). And she’s having an affair. Finally, Celia Ireland is Andy, who Jess is led to believe is Simon’s male squash partner, but who, in truth, is his female therapist. She’s helping him with that secret.

I can’t tell you the secret, of course. Well, I could. But I won’t. I really shouldn’t. No, really. What I can tell you is that Miller’s play is very cleverly and credibly constructed. The frustration and anxiety built-in is palpable and almost unbearable. But the actors, even in being led down a naturalistic path seem so fake. I found them annoying. None moreso than Ireland, whose part sounded like it had been researched on Google the night before. As an actor she makes a good psychologist and, as the psychologist she plays, a good actor. It’s a part that couldn’t be less convincing, on the page or stage.

These reservations aside, I have to admit the whole thing is compelling. It does lead one to consider the nature and functionality of truth, beyond its existence as a pure philosophical concept. How honest are we? Is that the same as being authentic, compassionate, caring, or loving? How useful is the notion of truth, as the brother of justice? Isn’t the somewhat antithetical American way a more pragmatic superhighway?

The tension builds and the actors gradually, and surprisingly, given the aggravating early stages, come into their own, revealing honed skills and an abiding empathy for the trials, tribulations, conflicts and confusions of their respective characters. Hazeldine even takes on a believable set of histrionically-generated physical and vocal tics, becoming a kind of instant Rain Man, just add water, or emotional torture. But Ireland stays about as real and organic as Coke.

In the end, the narrative aspects of the work are a device, or cage, for intensive, and intense, character study. In turn, the characters open up those wider philosophical questions. Simon’s secret, I can reveal, pertains to a crime, not so much of passion, but boredom, curiosity, burgeoning blood lust and fervour, he committed as a 10-year-old, pressed by older boys. He was complicit. But does a 10-year-old have the capacity, or emotional strength, to resist the intimidatory approval of an older gang? Maybe yes. Maybe no. I guess it depends on the 10-year-old and what he or she’s been through; how much guidance and role-modelling he or she has had. How lucky in life, or otherwise, he or she has been. What this play does, too, is warn us, yet again, of the pernicious dangers of the group dynamic: there’s safety in numbers, from the inside, but great danger if you happen to be on the outer. We know this, of course, as Jews, blacks, homosexuals, gypsies, Muslims in a Christian culture, as obese or aged individuals, and so on.

Thus, I’ve an uneasy relationship with this work. The discomfort the ideas and issues bring is a damn good thing. The irritation the actors bring, early on, isn’t. And more than a little of this responsibility must be sheeted home to Jones. I only wish I could be more precise in nailing the cause or nub of my concern. But, in the end, it’s just a feeling. And it may be peculiar to me. It may well be that I’m just peculiar. Its greatest achievements are in its capacity to forensically examine the universal, through the individual, or personal, and in stimulating thought about criminality, victimhood, marriage, intimacy, love, children, childhood, parenting, bureaucracy and its ineptitude in dealing with the complex, and more besides. It’s effect is felt after leaving the theatre. It lingers. But not like perfume. More like poison ivy or, say, stinky cheese. It’s mouth-filling and malodorous all at once.

Intellectually, emotionally and artistically, I s’pose, that’s a good thing. Confounding.

The details: Transparency plays the York Theatre, Seymour Centre, until September 17. Tickets on the venue website.