THE DROWNING GIRLS
We might as well call this the Bretta Gerecke season. Having designed Beyond Eden, Nevermore, The Drowning Girls and Elephant Wake, opening later this month, which she also directs, Gerecke has put her remarkable stylistic signature on some of the most visually stunning work to come our way this winter. Her vivid set and costume designs for The Drowning Girls are simpler than those of her other shows—three bathtubs lined up on the stage, over which hang three showers, and three century-old wedding-style dresses, clad in which the drowning girls will tell their tales of marital murder and get themselves very, very wet.
The Drowning Girls comes out of Edmonton, where it began as a Fringe show, and it has that now-identifiable Edmonton style that we’ve seen from directors Ron Jenkins and Jonathan Christensen in plays like The Black Rider and Catalyst Theatre’s Frankenstein and Nevermore. The director here is Charlie Tomlinson, who does a superb job. He’s also a co-writer with Beth Graham and Daniela Vlaskalic, who play two of the girls. The third is played by Natascha Girgis. The style is presentational, the actors telling the story directly to the audience as they perform it, with strong musical accompaniment (excellent sound design and composition by Peter Moller), choral work, and a tone of ironic grotesquerie cast over the entire delightful enterprise—resulting in part from the fact that the characters telling the story are dead.
Set in Edwardian England, it’s a story about three women, all of whom married serial killer George Joseph Smith, and all of whom ended up drowned in their bathtubs. The tubs are each half-filled with water and the women fall back into them, splash around in them, shriek in terror or joy as they soak in them or are soaked by the shower—all in those slightly raggedy wedding dresses. This is the best bathtub acting you’ll ever see—athletic, graceful and fearless. I’d be surprised if the actresses aren’t black and blue under those dresses.
I quickly lost interest in the details of the story—although the revelation at the end of how Smith drowned his wives without leaving any marks or signs of struggle is fascinating. But the work of the actors, carefully and cleverly choreographed by Tomlinson, is mesmerizing. I loved the surprising props they pull out of the tubs and the surprising ways they use them. Even more exciting is the staging that forgoes props: a surreal tea party, for example, in which all three fully dressed women sit on the inside edges of one tub and scoop up water by the handfuls.
Though nothing profound, The Drowning Girls is hugely entertaining and visually entrancing theatre.