aaron stern, lana sugarman, andrew bunker
ashleigh hendry, mark crawford, jillian harris
The Waves is a vividly beautiful piece of theatre adapted by Brenley Charkow from the 1931 Virginia Woolf novel of the same name and playing at the Factory Theatre Mainspace as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival.
In the beginning there was a nursery, and six barefoot children. The Waves is a character driven piece that explores the defining forces that shape these six characters as they grow up and how their friendship is enriched, challenged and changed by each one’s bourgeoning sense of self. I have not read the Virginia Woolf novel that this play is based on, but it has made me want to promptly add it to my wish list.
It appears as though Brenley Charkow has kept much of Woolf’s own words in the creation of this play, as the book primarily consists of soliloquies spoken by each of the six characters. Woolf’s language is absolutely dazzling in its poetic richness and her eloquence and poignancy saturate every one of her meticulously chosen phrases. Charkow has each of the six characters speaking in both conventional monologues, and also as narrators, which allows Woolf’s most descriptive passages to weave vibrant pictures for the audience and to reflect beautifully on the inner turmoil inside each of the characters. One of the biggest challenges for those seeking to adapt novels into plays is how to effectively engage with narrated description without disengaging the audience or becoming pedantic. Charkow has found the perfect balance in this play.
As Woolf’s story centers primarily on the resonant characterisations of six distinct individuals, the six actors who breathe life into this adaptation have a tremendous responsibility for upholding the entire play. Fortunately, the cast is superb. Andrew Bunker plays Bernard, a storyteller obsessed with words, with precision and intensity, but also an ability to recline nicely into the background. Mark Crawford is passionate and anxious as Neville, an obsessive lover with a terrifying secret. Aaron Stern is particularly marvellous as the Australian Louis, whose quest for acceptance leads to a fascinating mixture of boastful bitterness and contempt for the others that emerges from a deep rooted inferiority complex. Lana Sugarman sparkles with blithe excitement of limitless possibility as the socialite Jinny, while Jillian Harris is just as awkward and reclusive as Rhoda, a girl who barely feels human. The most breathtaking performance comes from Ashleigh Hendry, as Susan, who even as a little girl is resilient and at times rueful when faced with the other children. Susan teems with emotions and thoughts, but does not know how to channel or analyze them, so she packs them up as neatly as she can, pressing them down deep inside of her, and dutifully fulfills the tasks the world asks of her.
Brenley Charkow’s direction of this piece does beautiful justice to Virginia Woolf’s text as it gives each of the six characters their moments to speak from their hearts, but also allows for a strong ensemble dynamic to emerge, and for the friendships and the various dynamics between all six to bloom dramatically out of these soliloquies. Julia Vandergraaf the Lighting Designer makes some creative choices as well, specifically the fantastic flickering of the lights when the children are on the train.
This adaptation brings Virginia Woolf’s novel to dramatic life in a play fraught with heart and poetry. I think it would be difficult to not fall hopelessly in love with these characters for a lifetime.
The Waves plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street) at the following times:
Sun, July 4 3:00 PM
Tue, July 6 8:45 PM
Thu, July 8 4:00 PM
Fri, July 9 7:30 PM
Sun, July 11 Noon
all tickets $10 at the door or book in advance by calling the fringe hotline at 416.966.1062 or go online at http://www.fringetoronto.com/.