Jackie Richardson and Andrew Moodie (photo credit: Andrée Lanthier)
Thirsting for more
by Jim Murchison
The NAC presented the world premiere of Thirsty by acclaimed writer Dionne Brand. The play is set in Toronto and explores the life of a small family of newly immigrated Jamaicans; husband, wife, daughter and paternal mother. Gillian Gallow's lovely set has an upstage staircase descending steeply from stage right to left onto a large circular stage where we find a chrome legged table with a microscope on it, stage right, set in front of a mosaic made up of hundreds of microscope slides. There is a bicycle upstage centre and a sewing area with tons of material piled up stage left.
The audience basks in the sound of waves gently washing against the shore until the play opens when a much more ominous drip takes over as the women stare out into the audience intently reliving the senseless tragic killing of Alan at the top of the staircase. It is powerful and intense. The final scene is even more powerful and intense. In between, where we follow the family's fragmented immigration to Toronto and learn of their relationships though, it is incredibly intense. There is so much to admire about this play, I really wish I had liked it.
a little more Irie and less Greek tragedy would have been welcomed
It is as if director Peter Hinton's sole note had been: this line, or this scene, or this word is incredibly important! Sometimes you can fall in love with the words or the story to the point that you over-commit to them. The words are beautiful and the performances are powerful. One of the few light moments is where the actors speak of swimming in Lake Ontario and Alan bemoans that there is no real water to swim in, in Ontario. "You sink in Toronto water; no flavour, no salt". He also briefly speaks of a polychromatic murmur. These are beautiful words and images but it made me think that this production would have greatly benefited from more sugar and less monochromatic bellow.
There is much to admire in this production and about one third of the audience stood to demonstrate their appreciation. It was not unmerited as the production values and the performances were stellar. Carol Cece Anderson in particular, as Girl was emotionally charged and Andrew Moodie as Alan was effectively troubled as the driven lay preacher. Audrey Dwyer as long suffering wife Julia had powerful moments as well, but one wonders why she wasn’t equally as relieved by her husband’s death as troubled. Jackie Richardson as the "I’m no burden" hard working mother-in-law was another strong character, but there was ample opportunity to work more humour in that was not taken advantage of.
All in all a little more Irie and less Greek tragedy would have been welcomed and made the ending stronger. The final scene and the overall impression would have had much greater impact for me if this production had been a little less aware of its own importance.