Review: The Shimmering Verge (Prairie Fire, Please)

The Shimmering Verge is a “quietly thrilling piece of lyrical storytelling” on stage in Toronto

First premiering in 2002 at the Tarragon Spring Arts Fair before touring Canada and the US, poet Molly Peacock’s The Shimmering Verge has been revived by performer Madeleine Brown and director Karthy Chin. Prairie Fire, Please presents this solo show at Studio 21 (Théâtre français de Toronto) for the next week in celebration of National Poetry Month. 

Anecdotal and self-reflective, The Shimmering Verge is, in essence, Peacock’s love letter to poetry. She has taken great care to craft her love of the medium into tightly composed, intelligent reflections on form and style, life experience and artistic endeavour.

From the get-go, she wants us to understand the place we’re to inhabit for the next hour. The title itself conjures up amorphous yet eerily familiar sensations in me. The language Peacock uses to explain “The Shimmering Verge” suggests how the solid, fleshy facts of everyday life can feel deceptive during those haunting moments when, as we try to define some experience, the boundary between the tangible and ethereal shifts and blurs.

Lofty and abstract, I know, but this piece is undeniably resonant and relevant. With the dreamy text of The Shimmering Verge, Peacock immerses you in a speculative and impressionistic space that pays tribute to our experience of life and art. As whimsical as this sounds, her language is precise and grounds you with details to hold your attention and focus it. The events depicted feel substantial and authentic, but she provides layers of abstraction and deconstruction to set them aflutter with infinite possibilities.

Bringing Peacock’s words to life, Madeleine Brown has great poise and a startling ability to convey emotion and suggest a multitude of environments with the subtlest of gestures. Dressed simply and elegantly, she exudes a dignity and warmth that feels simultaneously formal and inviting. Without ever raising her voice or indulging in theatrics, she vividly evokes the gentle sweetness and humour of a sexual encounter, the white-knuckle terror of dealing with a drunk father, and the complex feelings that surface when laying a mother to rest. 

The precision and restraint of the text is intensified by the carefully wrought details of the presentation. Under Karthy Chin’s direction, there is never a useless object or wasted movement on stage. A mirror suspended in space, a pretty lamp sitting on a dresser, a shawl draped across: the colour and texture of these objects feels resonant and purposeful. 

Laura Dickens’ eerie soundscape and Waleed Ansari’s expressive lighting are so carefully integrated they seem to occur spontaneously, echoing the rhythms and imagery of Peacock’s dance between the literal and figurative. 

The Shimmering Verge is a delightfully understated and quietly thrilling piece of lyrical storytelling. To prime you for its charms, each performance opens with a reading from a prominent Toronto poet. See the show’s page for a list of readers. And, if you love poetry, fit this into your week because it really is a joy to behold. 

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Photo of Madeleine Brown by Adam Zivo