Review: The Carousel (Nightwood Theatre)

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A woman comes to terms with her dying mother in The Carousel at Toronto’s Berkeley Street Theatre

Theatre is such an intense and fleeting phenomenon. It is pure magic when that cynical rug is pulled out from under us and we topple, heart first, into someone’s life. Such was my experience of Nightwood Theatre’s production of The Carousel, currently playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs.

An unnamed woman stays at the bedside of her dying mother. Sitting there, she shares with us a journey through her past, reflecting upon the behavioral patterns that echo through generations.

The story is very much about ancestry. She must confront and accept how her life’s journey has been influenced by her childhood, by her mother’s childhood, and the passing of that history on to her own children.

The text and performance capture a conservative male/female dynamic. It shares a history of entitled men who have been encouraged to be whomever they need to be, finding women to possess, and forging ahead full steam. And women, taught to accept that men need to explore, are expected to provide a safe haven of unconditional affection for them to fall back on whenever the world beats them down.

The play gently picks at this oppressive culture, trying to find insights rather than assign blame. From this woman, we discover the heartache and visceral thrill of loving a selfish man. It sounds wrong on paper, but when listening to the deep yearning in her voice, I couldn’t help but be caught up in her desire for a man “who will leave, but always come back again”. And all of the men in this memory tale exude that uncomfortably sensual detachment. They remain aloof yet alluring.

The women, they must bolster each other when the pain becomes too crippling. And there is a lot of pain here. Three generations of women dutifully embody the roles expected of them. They hold the familial unit together, providing comfort and protection where it is required, but sacrificing their own personal needs for those of the family.

You must be thinking: so many characters, such complexity! Now imagine: this is all conveyed through one woman’s performance. Allegra Fulton, as the domestic quadtych—mother/daughter/lover/wife—delves in and out of family members both dead and alive. She does so with such passion and grace that I often forgot it’s just her on stage.

Jennifer Tremblay’s text (translated from the French by Shelley Tepperman) is visceral; it dredges up earthy and fleshy realities. By contrast, the production’s design elements are ethereal.

Denyse Karn’s set is a forced perspective hospital hallway—cold and sterile. Seen through an open doorway, is the bed in which her mother is dying.

Karn’s projections loom and dance on the expansive white surfaces. At times, they are vaguely representational—forests, car headlights, antique wallpaper. But most impressive, were the abstract patterns of coloured light that morphed and throbbed—an echo of this woman’s desire.

Thomas Ryder Payne has created an eerie and perfectly integrated soundscape. We recognize the sounds—the dreadful beeps and hushed voices of a hospital environment, the ringing of telephones, the awful screech of car just before impact—but they are strange and alien, a haunting memory of moments past.

The Carousel marks Megan Follows‘ directorial debut. Here, she has harmonized the physical and the intangible. There is no sound, light or movement that breaks the continuum. It is sharply focused and alive with messy and troubling life.

Details:

  • The Carousel is playing at Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs (26 Berkeley Street) until March 30
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8PM, with Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 2PM
  • Tickets are $25 t0 $45
  • Tickets can be purchased through the Box Office at 416-368-3110 or online

Photo of Allegra Fulton by John Lauener

One thought on “Review: The Carousel (Nightwood Theatre)”

  1. I hope Ms Fulton speaks her lines with more clarity than she did in The List at this same theatre. I could barely make out half of her dialogue on that occasion. Thankfully I was with a friend who could enlighten me as to what I had missed.

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