Saturday, March 19, 2011

glimpse into the fishbowl

The Girl in the Goldfish Bowl
- Sage Theatre

From behind a glass porthole in the turquoise wall of a 60's living room, Iris swims onto the set, where she is unnoticed by her depressed father and ignored by her distant mother, and announces with a degree of merriment that these are the last few days of her childhood.

The death of her goldfish, Amal, ("named after the place where we bought him"), coincides with the air-raid sirens that punctuate these days of the Cuban missile crisis, convincing Iris that Amal was solely responsible for holding the world together. So when she finds a mysterious stranger on the beach, bearing oddly similar markings on his neck to that of the deceased goldfish, Iris' rationalization that he is the reincarnation of her omnipotent goldfish gives her hope that order can somehow be restored to the world and to her troubled family, and she brings him home.

Esther Purves-Smith plays Iris with the entirely convincing bravado of a precocious 10-year-old. She is the embodiment of a brash pre-adolescent whose vast vocabulary and impetuous pronouncements alienate her from her peers. Her assured proclamations on everything from Buddhism to existentialism to linguistics to Catholicism to their boarder's drinking habits are part school-girl gossip, part desperate cry for attention.

Iris' parents, Sylvia (Adrienne Smook) and Owen (Kevin Rothery) are so pre-occupied with their own disenchantment, that their interactions with Iris are generally limited to half-hearted brushoffs that they pass off as parenting. Their fragile dance of regret and longing is poignant and subtly portrayed by both actors. On a side note, the 60's shift dress worn by Sylvia during the first act is stunning. I'm sure every woman in the audience was coveting that dress.

Laura Parken channels her inner inebriated Lucille Ball in a riveting performance as the sassy but increasingly desperate boarder, Miss Rose. Her relationship with Iris is a viscous sparring match. Miss Rose makes cutting observations about the disinterest that Iris' mother has for her family, while hissing thinly veiled threats to seduce Iris' father; Iris capably counters with blunt remarks about Miss Rose's work in the fish cannery and her nightly excursions to the local Legion, looking for love.

Mr Lawrence, the mysterious and perpetually befuddled stranger, is played as an innocent yet inscrutable catalyst by the very capable Geoffrey Ewert. When he enters this dysfunctional household, his presence is both a pivot about which the others circle and a land-mine which threatens to blow the already fragile relationships completely apart.

Though the entire play takes place within the turquoise walls that could be ripped straight from a Michel Gondry film, the sense of place in this production is very clear. Through the language alone, one gets a distinct feel of the rain-soaked and arbutus-lined Vancouver streets. The elements of absurdism and magic realism are at once elevated and are kept in check by side glimpses through the portholes in this suburban drama.

It may come as some surprise that this is actually an enormously funny play. The dialogue is effervescent and playful and Esther Purves-Smith's Iris is particularly engaging. Of particular note is the completeness with which she shifts, toward the end of The Girl in the Goldfish Bowl, from 10-year-old girl to grown woman with a simple drop in her tone. The transformation is astounding and cements the realization of the power of the performance that has come before.

The Girl in the Goldfish Bowl, by Morris Panych, is playing at Sage Theatre until March 26.


S.M. Elliott said...

This seems peculiar yet awesome. I would definitely give it a go.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It's really engaging, SME. The evening simply flies by.