In the North American, English-language premiere of “Cheech,” six dysfunctional people involved in the sex trade scrabble their way through a day of chaos.
The play has two possible sub-titles. The first, “The Chrysler Guys Are in Town,” refers to conventioneers who descend on Montreal to sample the spice of the nightlife. The second, “A Day in Disorder,” focuses on the disastrous lives of the purveyors of sex.
In a graphic demonstration of the fractured nature of their world, playwright Francois Letourneau, via translator Rick DesRochers, presents flashes of a series of moments of crisis. Eventually, those moments are inserted into the context of a full scene. And when the picture is complete, the pieces of the jigsaw of this day of disorder fall into place.
But, revelation also signals destruction. Relationships rarely survive so many layers of lies.
The fast-paced, movie-style structure of this solid ensemble production is delivered on a multilevel set, further cut up into small segments and flashing lights, signaling the urban loneliness that keeps each of these desperate people chained to a destructive lifestyle.
The format is compelling, if disconnected at times, giving little space for subtle nuances of character. But then the jagged pattern of “Cheech,” with its scrambled sequence of scenes, reflects the story of the city’s underbelly.
In the original French, “Cheech” may have been more closely connected to a time and place — the section of Montreal where it is set. In the English-language version, the script is more generalized, an impression of a setting that could be the dark side of any large urban center.
Gordon McCall’s direction emphasizes the underlying tone of violence and profanity, laced with nudity. The owner of the escort agency seems a little ridiculous as he alternately bellows profanities and studies a book on self-improvement. Jenny, the star call girl, also presents flashes of character extremes — on the one hand enjoying the basest of sexual acts, on the other being a sophisticated and refined businesswoman.
It is something of a surprise that, despite the brashness of the tone, the harshness of the zigzag plot and only occasional connections between characters, there is still time for moments of pathos and even tenderness in this fast-paced tragicomedy about the sex trade.