Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: (Toronto) The Flood Thereafter

Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster (Photo by Bruce Zinger)

by Ramya Jegatheesan  

In a sleepy little fishing town somewhere in Quebec, a mermaid is pulled from the river. She ensnares the men, and soon the town becomes a ghost town bereft of wives and work. 

Twenty years later, the mermaid serves up fish and chips at a local dive while her daughter strips in a bar as the men weep, spellbound by her beauty but cursed because any one of them could be her father.  

Québecois playwright Sarah Berthiaume’s The Flood Thereafter (translated by Nadine Desrochers) is a beautifully lyrical play that delights in taboo. Incest, infidelity, and the contested female body are all woven into this darkly fantastical narrative. 

Not to be forgotten, the play’s production also shows rare artistry and a deft poetic touch. The smoke and atmospheric lighting (Bonnie Beecher) veil the stage in mystery while the set design (Yannik Larivée) evokes a place decaying from rot. The cast is also solid with special mentions to Maggie Huculak as the dignified Penelope and to Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster (June) and Kevin Macdonald (Denis) for their bravery.  

But it is in the bones of its story that The Flood Thereafter falters. It is a story that provokes controversy but skimps on delivery.  

When June bares her body, it is abrupt and without seduction. When the men wail, it is without real tears or emotion. And when June is clothed, the men treat her like their child, with paternalism and overbearing watchfulness. The result is a disturbingly comical farce, and not in a good way. Where are the averted gazes and the shameful lustful stares? Those moments, ripe for tension, are left unexploited. And June is far too silent. 

Hoary clichés also abound. There are one too many damsels in distress, mysterious strangers, town-destroying whores, husbands with never-ending excuses and long-suffering wives. It is not that these clichés do not come from a place of truth, but that they ring false because they lack depth and nuance. For instance, Homer’s Penelope had scores of suitors vying for her affections during Odysseus’s absence.  She did not sit still at her loom, her life in limbo, for the lack of a husband. 

The Flood Thereafter wants to be disturbingly beautiful, but it is not disturbing enough, and fantasy is no cover for a weak story. 

Run Time: 90 minutes no intermission
Runs to October 6 

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