Sunday, August 11, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Oubliette (SummerWorks)

by Lisa McKeown

Entering the backspace of the Theatre Passe Muraille is like entering a kind of cave, the perfect setting for Think, Pig’s production of Oubliette. ‘Oubliette’ literally means ‘forgotten place’: a term used for the dungeon where captors would throw prisoners they wanted to forget. The lights come up on four such prisoners; four forgotten women, and all they can see is one small red light. 

The ostensible promise at the top of the show is that we, the audience, will eventually figure out what the stories of these women are. As the play develops we learn more and more about them, piecing aspects of their stories together, but a lot of questions remain unresolved. It’s not clear to me, for instance, if the location is literal or metaphorical. Are they really in a prison? Are they dead? Are they in a Huis Clos-like hell? The answer seems to be the latter, but then why these four women? How are they connected? 

The acting is strong and steady from start to finish. Each woman has a distinct kind of anxiety, and an individual neurotic energy that is maintained for the entire 50 minutes. And that’s not an easy feat, given the emotional intensity of the show.  There were a couple of lighter moments, but the intensity was never really broken. It almost felt like the show hit the same tone over and over, and a bit of time focusing on those lighter moments, bringing them out, might help to break that up for the audience and provide a nice counterpoint for the overall shape of the story. I was touched by these women, but also left feeling like I’d been through the wringer, with many unanswered questions. Definitely not a show for the faint of heart. 

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