Conor Green’s play The Nile centers on the High Dam, a man-made barrier aimed to increase economic production in Egypt by regulating the annual river flooding and providing storage of water for agriculture, and later, to generate electricity. In this play, the dam is said also to keep the Nile from flooding the settlements of millions of people below the river, and this is connected to the tensions between the Egyptians and the Nubians, two cultures that have a tumultuous history of war, slavery, annexation and assimilation dating back for centuries.
It is clear from this play that Green is a promising playwright. He has a particularly fantastic talent for capturing the dialects of his colourful characters and being able to write in broken English in communicating the sense of what his characters are saying, yet adhering to the grammatical structure from a different language. The overall premise of this story, two tourists becoming embroiled in the intense political tensions between contemporary Egyptians and Nubians provides great potential for powerful and captivating theatre.
The biggest challenge for Green, I think, is that his characters have not risen beyond their national clichés. There is a quirky New Zealander named Prunella, a drunken Russian who hates everything and two Canadians who are boring, white bread and apologize incessantly. In this way, I didn’t see these four as being individuals that I should care about, but just personifications of countries thrown together for comic effect.
Despite his inherently stereotypical character Duane Murray gives a beautiful performance as Piotr, the Russian, with great comic timing and a very convincing accent. Andre Sills is brilliant as the passionate Egyptian tour guide, oozing charm and also providing great comic relief as well as a slightly disquieting intensity. Sarah English is endearing and dynamic as the wild Prunella, but I found that I was swept away by her disturbed cries for help into a subplot that Green abandoned far too hastily.
Jenn Buffett, as the Canadian protagonist Karen, played her character radiating a constant bitter and negative energy, regardless of whether she was being told about the history of Egypt, about Prunella’s suicide attempts or her boyfriend’s stomach aches. This makes her an extremely unlikeable character, that alienates the audience, and the reason for her judgemental attitude is never explored or developed. I think I would have been more invested in the story Green was telling if I felt a strong affinity, or at least some degree of care, for his protagonist.
Conor Green’s talents as a writer do shine out of The Nile and the direction and use of the staircases and the space in the Annex Theatre work very well. I think the script has the potential to become a really captivating piece, but that there are still loose ends to be tightened up and all the characters could benefit from being developed to reach their full potential.
The Nile plays Sunday, July 11th at Noon at the Annex Theatre (730 Bathurst Street). 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/.