Get Swept Away by The Drowning Girls

daniela vlaskalic, natascha girgis, beth graham
The Drowning Girls, playing at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space until November 15th, begins as three girls emerge sputtering from three pristine white bathtubs gasping for air. Yet, I found this production to be so visually stunning that more often than not, it was I who was struggling to catch my breath.
I met an extraordinary woman who was seated next to me in the audience of this play. She told me that it was nearly her 85th birthday and that she could hardly believe it, and she absolutely shone with the utmost of grace, class, wisdom and magic. Her soul was as bright as a rainbow. I am certain this woman has been to Neverland. Moments before The Drowning Girls began she whispered to me, “That’s what I like so much about the theatre, the theatre is an absolute adventure.” She is absolutely right and The Drowning Girls is a perfect example.
This play has been in development by collaborators Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic since its premiere at the Edmonton Fringe Festival in 1998, after which it received four Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards. It centers on the lives of three Edwardian women who were murdered by their husbands, drowned in a bathtub, so that he could collect their insurance policies. To call The Drowning Girls a “play” does not even seem to do it justice, as it is not simply a clever narrative, or a finely acted and cleverly orchestrated piece of theatre, but a poetic, haunting, captivating sequence of words, story, color, light, and water that thrashes and resonates in the heart of the audience. I was drawn forward in my seat, sucked so far into the stories that were being told that I felt Daniela may pierce me with her fiery eyes, or Beth would surely slide into the front row as she ran and twirled on the wet, wet, stage. My senses were being overwhelmed, I was becoming saturated, indeed, I was drowning in the richness of theatricality and the intensity of the performances. Yet, I wanted to remain submerged in this new, fascinating world far beyond the Curtain Call.
We are introduced to the three drowning girls, Bessie (Vlaskalic), Alice (Graham) and Margaret (Natascha Girgis), dressed in exquisite ghoulish attire by the brilliant Bretta Gerecke. Each girl is fulfilling her dream of becoming a wife. Daniela Vlaskalic’s Bessie floats about the room with her eyes wide with terror as though in a trance. Beth Graham’s Alice is exuberant and fanciful as a child seeking mischief, and Natascha Girgis’ Margaret is a pillar of strength and practicality who takes life like a slightly bitter tasting medicine. Together, the three of them are inseparable and unconquerable; but alone, each one grows increasingly susceptible to the dangerous charms of George Joseph Smith and one by one their dreams of being showered with love and showered with affection are sunk into the tub.
The performances in this play are extraordinary. I sat with my mouth gaping open as I struggled to take in every vital moment. The three performers snap between their Drowning Girls and portraying a wide array of peripheral characters with perfect ease. Vlaskalic is brilliant in the creation of a creepy chauvinist doctor, and she also performs the most heart wrenching sobbing scene I have ever seen onstage. Beth Graham is absolutely epic as the old British woman who cleans out one of the bathtubs after the drowning girl’s death. In a similar role, Natascha Girgis is wonderfully hysterical. There is also an incredible moment in one of the bathtubs where the girls transform into the associates of Marks and Knowles, a Dickensian looking establishment where one of the girls takes out her life insurance policy.
The maneuvers that these performers do in and around the bathtubs are nearly terrifying in their dexterity. I kept worrying that someone was going to hit her head on the side of the tub, or slip on the wet stage, or bang herself, or bruise herself, or fall, or drown… it is incredible to watch, especially Beth Graham, play in her very dangerous jungle gym. There is a moment between Daniela Vlaskalic and Natascha Girgis that is absolutely chilling to the bone.
All the elements of theatricality are in perfect tandem in The Drowning Girls. The script, Charlie Thomlinson’s beyond brilliant direction, the performances, the lighting by Narda McCarroll and the Set and Costumes by Bretta Gerecke come together to create an intense water wonderland that will truly take your breath away.
The Drowning Girls is a Bent Out of Shape Production and it plays until November 15th, 2009 in the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space. 30 Bridgman Avenue, Toronto. 416.531.1827. For more information visit http://www.tarragontheatre.com/.

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