The Watershed, a raucous and fun documentary-style play in Toronto as part of PANAMANIA
Annabel Soutar’s The Watershed is as informative as it is entertaining, scoring high marks for both. The co-production between Montreal’s Porte Parole Productions and Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre is part of PANAMANIA – the 35-day arts and culture festival that is part of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am & Parapan Am Games – and follows the true story of Soutar’s investigation into the funding changes and potential demise of Kenora, Ontario’s Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) and the drastic consequences this has for Canada’s water system.
I was expecting to walk into a Canadiana-esque Heritage Moment narrated by Knowlton Nash as the show is told in the documentary-theatre style. What I witnessed was a raucous tournament of fun, which gave energy and even more poignancy to information that could otherwise be very dry.
Soutar’s love of the environment is evident but it is her ability to synthesize this love and mix it with her passion for storytelling that allowed The Watershed to capture the attention of the audience and judging by their reaction the show was thoroughly enjoyed by all in attendance with an encore standing ovation.
One thing I particularly enjoyed was how The Watershed was not shy about tackling the serious issues affecting Canada’s watersheds and I feel that Soutar’s choice to work in the documentary theatre works with this subject but also with her other projects in the social justice and environment sphere, notably Seeds.
At one point The Watershed begs the question: What is the best way to get a potentially dry, politically charged message across to the widest possible audience? Soutar’s script is presented with a cast that answers that question with their enthusiastic performances. Canadian icon Eric Peterson C.M., Tanja Jacobs, Amelia Sargisson, and Ngozi Paul stand out. Their versatility is the heart of the show as they seamlessly transition on stage into their various characters, some simply having different ideologies and others with noticeable age gaps and interests.
Tara Nicodemo, Bruce Dinsmore, and Alex Ivanovici are excellent supporting players, nailing comic relief. Dinsmore’s Stephen Harper is three dimensional and while he does have dialogue, it is his silent, ominous presence at some points that reminds us of the severity of the subject matter.
Kristen Thomson’s passionate performance as writer Annabel Soutar is felt throughout the theatre and at some points I thought I was watching Soutar herself on stage. Thomson’s depth and breadth as an actor is apparent as she runs the gamut of emotions inhabiting Soutar and her activist/documentarian struggle to document the issues surrounding the ELA while also juggling her responsibilities as a mother and wife. By the pivotal climax of the show, I felt Thomson gave us everything she had and it was welcome and appreciated.
Stage Manager Merissa Tordjman deserves praise for her role in keeping everything on cue and smooth running. With many different character and setting transitions, the The Watershed was literally alive and Tordjman was its constant pulse behind the scenes.
One thing I missed at the beginning were the lighting-cued time stamps on the brick wall behind the stage telling of specific dates or character names. At first, I questioned this decision but as the performance hits stride my eyes automatically addressed that space before being engaging with the scene.
As the production draws to its conclusion, I found myself thinking of Soutar’s story as more of an issue of the world than just something affecting Canadians. It says on Porte Parole’s website that “We Are Water” and with the actual words of the key players involved with Canada’s water, The Watershed shows us that this is true.
The lasting impressions I have of the performance are two questions and one great answer. 1) What is best for us? And, 2) Can “best” even be defined? Soutar takes aim and asserts that the only way to find the answer is with a healthy, intelligent, and diverse discussion of which The Watershed can’t help but provoke.
- The Watershed is playing until July 19th at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street)
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, with an additional matinee Saturday at 2pm and the Closing Performance on Sunday at 2pm
- Ticket prices range from $27 – $37 for matinees, and $37 – $42 for evening performances and are available online, or through the box office at 416.368.3110
Photo of Ngozi Paul, Kristen Thomson, Alex Ivanovici, and Amelia Sargisson provided by the company.