Paula And Karl
Rachel Giese

DNA Theatre founder Hillar Liitoja is both a genius and an asshole, but I suspect not as much of either as he’d like his audiences to believe.

His latest offering, Paula and Karl, is staged in an apartment on Niagara St., the fictional home of a married pair of serial killers. On arrival, the audience is escorted up in a freight elevator by surly stagehands who bark that you can sit wherever you want, provided you must be prepared at all times to move out of the way of the actors.

But over two and a half hours, staged in real time, very little happens. For the first 20 minutes, for instance, Paula (Veronika Hurnik) plays with her hair, reads People magazine and watches a video. Then her husband, Karl (James Thomson), comes home. They talk. She makes him a sandwich. He eats it. They discuss the tortures they plan to inflict on the young girl they have tied up and stowed somewhere in the apartment. They are briefly visited by a pair of police detectives (James O’Reilly and Randall Lanthier). They fight. Karl slumps in a chair and listens to jazz. They fight some more.

Meanwhile, the small audience sits, alternately confused, disturbed and bored, beside Paula on the couch, or next to Karl at the dining-room table, or even adventuring, as one man did during lulls in the action, to open the fridge and examine its contents, check out CDs and leaf through a magazine.

Plays like this are usually much better in theory than in practice, and such is the case with Paula and Karl. More bullying than provocative, in the hands of lesser actors, it would be an utter failure. But the excellent cast, in particular Hurnik and Thomson, meticulously directed by Liitoja, have incredible focus.

The problem is the script: a trite meditation on the banality of evil (and an unnecessary allusion to Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka) that, unforgivably, neither illuminates the souls of the serial killers nor creates any sympathy for their victims.

EYE Magazine Feb 15/01