Tuesday, September 27, 2016


photos by Scott Gorman

The current Canadian REP Theatre and ENSEMBLE (CANADIAN YOUTH THEATRE) production of Wajdi Mouawad’s Tideline is a spare expressionistic canvas of rich and varied tones. The initiative on the part of Canadian REP Theatre, under the direction of Ken Gass, to bring Canadian classics and new work to the stage with a group of young theatre practitioners creates a remarkable challenge for actor and audience alike. Mouawad’s script is the perfect vehicle for this venture as a surrealistic landscape populated by individuals caught between a longing for innocence, and terror-fixed lives trapped within severe trauma - aging them beyond their years - becomes a symbol of generational debts being paid for by the young on behalf of the sins of older patriarchal blunders and blunderers. A vicious circle scenario reigns supreme as the journey implicates past future and present in a complex weblike plot that is not easy - or necessary - to unravel. 
Paternalistic motifs that draw from sources as timeless as Antigone and Oedipus, and gesturing toward past present and future global wars present (on designer Jung-Hye Kim’s stark stage, carefully & elegantly littered with functional white risers and pristine wooden slopes) a timeless meditation on cultural and familial sorrow, devotion, outrage, and sexual prowess. The first few pages of the text, beginning with a lengthy monologue, speak of being in bed with goddesses and a fleeting quip by the central character that encapsulates a primary symbolic theme in the play;

Wilfrid - I don't know. He died tonight. I was probably having sex when it happened. And some people say that’s life. There’s no life dammit, there’s nothing, nothing, you’re stuck with an impossible mess that doesn’t, not one iota, dammit, make any sense at all. Is your father dead?

The death of the father becomes a puzzling piece of an overall jigsaw of confusion, lament, and the desire for resolution by a complex cast of characters.

The range of acting styles, although slightly jarring at times, does add to the diversity of emotion - from melodrama to heartfelt naturalistic emotional outburst. This tapestry of sight and sound fills the playing space with diverse signs of life, death, and the pursuit of a kind of existentialist meaning - or lack thereof. Like Antigone and Oedipus, a final resting place/burial plot becomes the hoped for outcome for this 150 minute journey (one intermission). Stylistically, the first act wanders a little, and might have fared better with a more cohesive sense of acting style and character distinction/delineation that mixes more obviously comic elements to the sexual motifs, thereby lightning the load of intense sorrow. But the text is strong enough to weather the deluge and the actors draw us into the drama at the outset. 

The second act swiftly picks up on the primary tensions as it quickly moves spectators through to a beautiful and poetic climax that picks out some of the more bewildering first act threads - and turns them into powerful drama that unfolds and indirectly explains itself with sharp poetic intensity. 

The cast, too numerous to mention in detail, works extremely well as an ensemble willing to take risks regarding movement and camaraderie in a text that rips characters apart with wild, demonstrative gestures of epic proportions. A final scene, with part of the ensemble behind a translucent backdrop, creates the filmic meta-theatrical motif that ends the play. The actors present a fine tableau of symbolic movement. Standout performances from Wilfrid (Danny Ghantous) and the Father (Eric Mrakovcic) occur as they deliver poetic denouement-like sections with a beautiful and moving intensity. Markovcic’s final speech, in particular, resonates with an epic tone, vocally presenting subtle highs and lows regarding the gravitas of his Odyssean journey - a journey that brings the title of the play into high relief. And yet again, the ensemble provides such a stirring visual motif for these two actors to play before that their individual tasks become solo feats dependent upon the silence and skilful, vibrant agility of the whole company - with wonderfully evocative audio visual by Wayne Kelso (composer/sound design) and Andre du Toit (lighting design).

Angela Sun in dual characters as The Knight and the The Director brings an at times lighthearted - yet menacing and powerful - effect to the meta/choral element through a kind of in your face declamatory pose that both charms and alienates as a form of theatrical distancing through a lead choral/orator role. This style might have been used more frequently as an element of contrast in order to vary the action. Cassidy Sadler (as Simone), Augusto Bitter (as Ame) Harrison Tanner (as Sabbe) Kwaku Okyere (as Massi/Wazaan) and Madeleine Heaven (as Josephine) all take on rich layered parts that add immensely to the overall journey and the many pitfalls and idiosyncratic characteristics that marks the primary quest for resolution. Khaki Okyere has a particularly riotous and harrowing scene at a kind of dinner table conflagration/conversation gone terribly wrong. His physicality and vocal intensity fill the stage and set the bar very high for an ensemble that consistently meets the challenges the script, and the arduous physicality director Ken Gass demands from a haunting text and a very talented and skilful cast.

Running at Hart House until October 1st, Canadian REP’s production of Wajdi Mouawad's Tideline is a powerful production of a great Canadian play that takes on timeless issues in a poetic and deeply moving manner.

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