Jillian Fargey plays Collette in the Morris Panych world premiere "In Absentia" at the Centaur Theatre.


Absence makes the heart grow fonder, according to the latest Centaur Theatre production, "In Absentia."

But the real question the Morris Panych world-premiere play addresses is: For how long?

"In Absentia," which opens Jan. 31, tells the tale of Collette, a woman who has spent the last year contemplating the abduction of her husband, Richard, while on a business trip to Columbia. Collette spends the winter alone in the couple's country cottage, until one day a young stranger appears: a boy who has an uncanny likeness to Richard.

"The play is a beautiful piece of poetry about loss," said Jillian Fargey, who plays Collette. "It's about loss and loneliness and longing and the responsibility one must take in dealing with that. I think it's a stunning piece. And for Morris, it's probably one of the most heartfelt and heart-wrenching pieces he's written to date."

Fargey said that at this point in time, it's not always easy to talk about the play.

"If we had talked a month ago, I would probably have a clearer idea of what the play's about," she said. "But now we're in the deconstruction of it, and I'm exploring my own character. So I'm kind of in that weird hell that an actor finds themselves in during mid-rehearsal."

Fargey said that the more the play is studied, the bigger the questions become. Which is a good thing.

"But it's also the more confused I often become."

Which is also a good thing. But the confusion doesn't stay, Fargey said.

"I always go to a place where I don't understand anything, and then it all starts to fall back into place again."

Fargey added that the language in the play needs time to digest after a few readings.

"Morris's language is quite heightened," she said. "He's very specific with his choice of words. So just making sure you're honoring his text is a challenge."

In addition to the right choice of words, the right choice of character actions plays a big part of the work. While Collette's husband, Richard, has disappeared, he is very prominent in the play.

"It becomes very clear right off the bat that he does appear," Fargey said. "But we don't know if he's a figment of her imagination or a ghost or if he's still alive or if he's dead. And those questions are not answered until they're answered."

Collette has ongoing conversations with her missing husband throughout the play in her mind, Fargey said.

"It's a bit of a mystery."

Enter a mysterious young stranger.

"And now we have to figure out why he's there."

Fargey said the play reads like a mystery novel.

"And it's definitely a love story. A true love story in the way that it's not a perfect relationship," she said. "It's not a sentimental, romantic view of a modern relationship; it's a real relationship with all its problems and all its true love in tact."

Fargey said attendees can take from the play what they want.

"I never know how to answer that question," she said. "I don't want to feel responsible for what an audience takes away. I want to fulfill the playwright's desires and needs and then allow the audience to take what they will. But I think the piece will speak to everybody on some level, at whatever level it touches them. But there isn't a person I know who hasn't experienced loss or longing."

Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.

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