The Wild Duck Project, on stage at the Hub14 in Toronto, is, unfortunately, a “bit of a rocky ride”
You can’t live with the truth and you can’t live without it. Re:Current Theatre’s The Wild Duck Project playing at Hub 14, uses Henrik Ibsen’s play text as a basis for meditations on truth. Is it important? Should we be more honest? How does it impact our lives?
The problem, unfortunately, is that ‘the truth,’ is a subject that is almost too big to contain. Coupled with Ibsen’s text, The Wild Duck Project ends up with a selection of insight bogged down by its own ambition.
Let me explain.
In Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, Gregers Werle (Zachary Murphy), an idealist, decides to inform his friend Hjalmar Ekdal (Victor Pokinko) about the truth of his family. Specifically, he knows that Hjalmar’s wife, Gina (Alex Spyropoulos), had an affair with Gregers father and Hjalmar’s child, Hedvik (Eliza Martin), is not biologically his daughter.
The information sets off an unfortunate series of events that ends in tragedy.
Over snippets of the text and summaries of various scenes, The Wild Duck Project has the cast drop in and out of character to pontificate, reflect, and debate about honesty, deceit, lies, and truths.
My guest nailed it when he described whimsy as the show’s major strength. Director Bryan Postalian is clearly unafraid to try just about anything. Song, dance, puppetry, and one powerful scene featuring Hedvik hiding her head in a bucket of water, are used amazingly well. His direction creates segments that transcend words, aiming directly for the heart of the scene instead of the theme of it.
My personal favourite scene was the fight between Hjalmar and Gina. Pokinko loomed over Spyropoulos, wielding his lamp light threateningly. Then everything dissolved into a mad waltz. The moment spoke so clearly to the story, it was sad, irrational, and, beautiful. We didn’t need to talk about what ‘the truth’ meant, we were just given the impact of it, a complicated issue without solution.
Honestly, I found it interesting that the segments that didn’t rely on clear dialogue were infinitely more genuine than some of the direct monologues. I felt like the show didn’t quite trust it’s audience to engage with it’s less-than-linear moments.
There is a lot going on in The Wild Duck Project and while the content is supported by a fantastic cast, I think there was just too much focus on explaining, interpreting, and defining ‘truth.’ And that’s a shame.
While I appreciate the interest in delving deeper into Ibsen’s play by having the actors explain their relationship to the themes of the text, it fell terribly flat.
Only one, my guest and I agreed, tied nicely into the show: Martin’s story about her first pet (a guinea pig) and how she understood Hedvik, a character with a pet wild duck. I think both Martin’s delivery, and the simplicity of the connection (two women who love animals), made it accessible for the audience.
In contrast, Pokinko’s reflection on religion and Murphy’s perspective on his artistry, both felt like they’d been tacked on and only thinly returned to the framing narrative.
To me, trimming the actor asides, especially the strange half-point debate would help land stronger story beats. More importantly, however, I think reworking some of the content to better mirror Ibsen’s text and the creative point can only improve a solid foundation.
Ultimately, The Wild Duck Project is a bit of a rocky ride. It’s weakest sections drag but it’s strongest moments fly.
- The Wild Duck Project runs until December 13th at Hub 14 (14 Markham Street)
- Shows run Wednesday to Sunday at 8pm
- Tickets are $20 or $15 for students; they can be purchased at the door, or online here
Photo of Eliza Martin courtesy Re:Current Theatre