What is an oubliette? I sure didn’t know until this SummerWorks show where I found myself thrown headfirst into one to meet four unnamed women who have survived a war and are forced to deal with each other and the shared memories of their old lives.
An oubliette is a dungeon, with access only through the top. What better venue for such a setting than the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. The space is high and narrow, and you are forced to look down upon the performers who always seem trapped. It is a dynamic that wouldn’t work for all plays, but it certainly works for Think,Pig!‘s production of Oubliette.
Oubliette is uncomfortable to watch. There is a looming presence above these women that manifests itself as an ominous droning sound or a high-pitched screech. We never quite know what is out there, but we know it isn’t safe.
Our four women are beaten, but not broken. They are bruised and dirty, their clothes are in tattered ruins, but they are very much alive and railing at whatever cruel force has made them hard and bitter.
The dialogue is often abstracted and has that stream-of-consciousness flow that, if not done well, can seem too artsy and indulgent. However, Kevin Rees’ script is not sloppy or flippant. When these women speak, their breath is not wasted. Even before we realize the point of certain passages, there is a tension in them. Deep down… we know what it means before we know what it means.
The text is visceral. There is much talk of earth, flesh and bodily fluids. In the stories they tell, and the way they interact with each other, they are grappling with their bodies and whether there is anything more to them as beings than what they can physically relate to.
There are many vague references to something going horribly wrong with men and machines, that the civilized furniture of their lives has been dismantled and these women are left with all of the disparate bits and pieces.
Rees knows that the truth of these women runs deeper than all of their talk. In his direction, focus is on the physical presence of these women. Some of the most haunting moments in the play are wordless—four women facing each other, each one’s body betraying her history.
A shout out to the relentless physicality of these four performers: Janet Davidson, Veronika Hurnik, Shelby Meaney and Denise Norman. I can only begin to imagine how exhausting such performances are.
While not entirely optimistic, it does offer some small ray of hope. The play suggests that the terrifying truth of our existence as limited physical beings can be accepted when we focus our attention on experiencing other people. If there is anything more to us than flesh and blood, it is to be found in our interactions, in the way we acknowledge our own vulnerability and recognize it in others.
- Oubliette plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Ave.)
- Show times: Thursday August 8, 3:30 pm; Friday August 9, 1:00 pm; Saturday August 10, 8:30 pm; Monday August 12, 6:00 pm;
Tuesday August 13, 8:30 pm; Wednesday August 14, 1:00 pm; Friday August 16, 3:30 pm; Saturday August 17, 6:00 pm
- All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth (located at 100A Ossington Avenue, first floor) Aug. 6-18 10AM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
- Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Photo by Kevin Rees.