by Jenna Rocca
Crow’s Theatre‘s Eternal Hydra has been remounted in association with the Factory Theatre to great acclaim which is much deserved. This is one of the most original and compelling contemporary plays I have seen in quite a while, probably since Chris Abraham’s own The Patient Hour by Kristen Thomson, staged at Tarragon.
Abraham and Thomson are best known for the iconic collaboration known as I, Claudia perhaps the greatest work of Canadian theatre, in my humble opinion.
Eternal Hydra is very different, but no less bold. This show makes no hesitation and is practically religious in its solemnity, both in staging and performance. However there is still a child-like wonder in the presentation that gives it a subtle lightness that is really what makes it work so well.
Abraham has put together a pastiche expressing ideas of appropriation, artistic expression, and genius out of the script by Anton Piatigorsky. The notion of authorship is put on the table, examined and challenged.
Is the best art just the product of clever appropriation? Is this the measure of true genius? Can nothing ever be truly original if it is also inspired and “great”?
These questions are presented to the audience via the roles of several different characters each playing a role in the construction and distribution of “art.”
All of these characters are played by only four performers, who slip in and out of worlds connected by props and prose. David Ferry is the central figure as the author of the infamous “Eternal Hydra,” a one-hundred-chaptered (or headed) beast of a manuscript representing the voices of history that have been raped and re-interpreted by those with more power. His characters are the authorities in history and in the creation of art.
The book has been missing for decades, and is thought to be one of the greatest masterpieces created by man. One obsessed scholar, played by the ferocious though fragile Liisa[M1] Repo-Martell begins to uncover more and more about its creation once the great author’s diary is also discovered. These stories are also played back in flashback scenes.
She doesn’t like what she finds.
Her characters are the researchers, scholars, the silent mediators of art.
Cara Ricketts has a satiny resonance in both presence and voice. She trips between one character and another with complete fluidity. At one moment she is a hot, published author of contemporary New York, another a character in said author’s book, based on a real author of the thirties, southern American accent and all. In the final stretch she is the character of the second author’s short story, a black girl in New Orleans at the time of the riot of 1866. All are explicitly put forth as artists.
Finally there is the patron, at one moment the head of a publishing house in contemporary New York, at another, the same in 1930s Paris. And at yet another, the limping-Creole boss of Ricketts’s artistcharacter. These are given life by Sam Malkin.
This play is well conceived and wonderfully structured. I just felt that certain elements, like the long scene showing the breaking down of Ferry’s character to the extent of his slapping himself in the mirror and berating his heritage were excessive. There were some elements like that which could have been reigned in a bit more.
Of course I have to mention the rest of the audience, and I bring this up only to mention an overheard comment during intermission from a woman behind me: “I don’t like having to strain to understand.” With all due respect, this show is very straightforward in its content. I don’t know what was hard to understand but let’s just say she didn’t come back for the second half.
The lovely direction, vibrant performances, and lumbering staging make Eternal Hydra a must-see. Though my only qualms are with the text itself, it is a very strong work that should be seen by anyone remotely interested in the contemporary Canadian theatre scene.
– Eternal Hydra is playing at the Factory Theatre, located on the North-East corner of Bathurst St. and Adelaide, until February 13th
– tickets are $15-$40 and can be ordered online or by phone at (416) 504-9971
Photo: Cara Ricketts and David Ferry by Monica Esteves