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'The Drowning Girls' by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic

Now onstage until August 27 at 201 Guildwood Parkway, Scarborough

Raph Nogal

Dave Rabjohn

A haunting production full of subtle terror.

This year’s summer season at The Guild Festival Theatre finishes with a haunting production of ‘The Drowning Girls’ – full of subtle terror. We often hear the phrase ‘dramedy,’ but this play tilts far more towards ‘dram’ than ‘medy.’ A solid ensemble of three actors, playing many more roles than their prime responsibilities, grimly displays the horrors of spousal abuse.

Three women in the early 1900s share a common horror – each has married and been murdered by the same man. Each woman tells their story of societal pressure to marry at any cost. The stories vary only slightly as we hear of physical abuse, economic abuse, emotional abuse, and not to be flippant – abuse abuse.

All three stories end with the same shock – murder by drowning.

That brings us to the frightful image of Kalina Popova’s set. Three filthy bathtubs, pulled from some decrepit motel, face the audience with dread. Miss Havisham - looking wedding dresses hang forlornly above each tub. The audience is already anxious when the three brides enter ghost-like and slip into each death bed.

Director Helen Juvonen brilliantly manipulates the tubs into social venues, relaxation spas or court proceedings. Actual water in each tub gives a sense of disturbing reality as the actors are wet throughout the production. Water is an effective motif throughout as we hear tormenting dripping sounds and see the victims with wet clinging dresses, much like Ophelia in the pond.

Georgia Findlay plays Alice – her expressions have a great range as she can be demure, wilting one minute, and charged with anger the next. Her eyes are constantly intense, preparing us for the monstrous end. Alicia Barban plays Bessie who displays equal range – at one point, she leaves her character and launches into a brilliant scene as a doctor. Blythe Haynes plays Margaret with frightening, forced smiles. She also leaves her character and dives into a dazzling scene, along with Bessie playing lawyers and insurance agents.

Humour offers some relief as the girls play silly giggly maids – imitating their future husbands or struggling with minor details such as uncooperative stockings. Each actor demonstrates a wide range of accents offering caricatures of Scotsmen or unseemly lawyers.

Countering the horror of their lives (and their ending) is some brilliant poetic language. As we see their common bond, the three actors do a very sensitive recital of some powerful choral work.

As mentioned in the director’s notes, the narrative of these tragedies often circles the perpetrator rather than the victims. To focus on the story of the three women gives the play veracity and strength.

A final note: This particular evening in the middle of August was unusually chilly with a cooling breeze from the lake. The audience felt for the actors who, as mentioned, were wet throughout the night. We will save the term ‘heroes’ for our hundreds of firefighters, but the three actors showed great pluck in working with difficult conditions. And I’m sure they appreciated stage manager Lauren Allen and her crew running around with urns of warm water and towels aplenty.

‘The Drowning Girls’ by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, Daniela Vlaskalic
Performers: Alicia Barban, Georgia Findlay, Blythe Hanes
Director: Helen Juvonen
Production Designer: Kalina Popova
Stage Manager: Lauren Allen

Production runs through: August 27, 2023.

Tickets: guildfestivaltheatre.ca

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