Review: carried away on the crest of a wave (Tarragon Theatre)

carried away on the crest of a wave, Tarragon Theater

Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre presents the world premiere of David Yee’s play carried away on the crest of a wave

On December 26, 2004 an earthquake under the Indian Ocean triggered a massive tsunami along the coastline of Southeast Asia. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand were hit the hardest. I still remember being haunted by the images from the 24-hour news cycle that day; entire villages washed away into the ocean, the endless heartache and misery. It was devastation of unimaginable proportions.

Over 200,000 people died in the tsunami. For countless others who survived, their lives changed forever. That cataclysmic event and its ripple effects form the backdrop for carried away on the crest of a wave a new play by Tarragon Theatre’s playwright-in-residence David Yee.

The play is essentially a staged anthology of short stories; a group of actors perform a series of mostly unrelated vignettes featuring characters whose lives have been affected by the disaster in different ways.

It opens with the mythology-inspired tale of two brothers desperately bailing out their sinking house. It proceeds to a story of faith as a Catholic priest in India grapples with the idea of a Muslim civil engineer investigating a potential miracle in his church. There’s an absurdist meditation on grief featuring a Japanese man falling down a hole for four-and-a-half years. Then, there’s a story of a mysterious Thai escort who helps a john come to terms with the death of his wife.

While the tone and style sometimes shift wildly between the vignettes the scenes are thought-provoking reflections of the human condition. Yee’s writing is thoughtful, often clever and full of wit. There are heartfelt moments but the show is also infused with Yee’s wry style of humour.

The script is elevated by a strong ensemble cast. Kawa Ada, Ash Knight, Richard Lee, John Ng, Mayko Nguyen, Eponine Lee and Richard Zeppieri deliver consistently strong performances in the wide variety of characters they are demanded to play throughout the course of the show.

Director Nina Lee Aquino does an admirable job of bringing together the disparate scenes into a cohesive show although I think pacing can be tightened in a few of the vignettes in the second half and I’m not sure if the two-act format was the right choice for this show; the intermission saps a lot of the momentum from the first half.

Once again, I’m thoroughly impressed by the wildly inventive production design by Camelia Koo, her abstract set design beautifully evokes the play’s various settings. The stage is bisected by a transparent wave-like wall, much of the action takes place on a boardwalk across the apron of the stage and in a pool of water that forms in a recess on one side of the set.

With carried away on the crest of a wave, playwright David Yee uses one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history as a backdrop to help us explore our own humanity. The tales of grief, love, loss, longing and redemption remind us of the universality of the human experience and also make for a compelling evening of theatre.


Photo credit:

  • Photo of Kawa Ada and Richard Lee by Cylla von Tiedemann.