Last Saturday (Sept 29) the director, designers, cast and crew of The Drowning Girls met for the first read-through of the play. In the room (at Fraser Studios) were director Taryn Jorgenson; co-producers Brenda Darling and Andy Fraser (no, she doesn’t own the place); designers Ed Rosing (Set & Lighting), Bec Brownstone (Costumes), and Rick Jones (Sound). Other production folk represented were Assistant Director Antara Keelor, Stage Manager Laura Paduch, Scenic Artist/”right-hand-of-Ed” Cathy McKim, and Head Carpenter Mike Peck.
The three actors who play the “brides in the bathtubs” — and all the other roles, including their murderer!—are Jen Neales as Alice, Tennille Read as Bessie, and Emily Smith as Margaret.
Taryn started off by handing out research packages to the actors, and reading out some horrifying statistics. Domestic violence accounts for 12% of all violent crimes. According to a book titled Women Killed By The Men They Love, on average, one woman is killed every 6 days by an intimate partner. Taryn would like to dedicate this play to the victims of domestic violence who are not speaking.
This play (written by two Canadian actors – Beth Graham and Daniela Vlaskalic, and a director, Charlie Tomlinson) began its life in the Edmonton Fringe. The story of The Drowning Girls is based on a real murder case in England in the early 1900’s: George Joseph Smith seduced a series of women, using a different identity each time. He managed to isolate the women from their families, persuaded them to sign all of their property over to him, purchased life insurance, and then drowned each one in a bathtub. The play is told from the perspective of three brides – Bessie, Alice and Margaret. Their narratives are woven together with very poetic language and rhythms, each telling their story from beyond the grave – their hopes and dreams of life and marriage, their choices and their regrets. “Not-so-happily-ever-after”, indeed.
The Drowning Girls is a fast-moving piece; as co-producer Brenda Darling noticed, in one page of script, the actors switch character several times. They overlap dialogue, take turns playing their husband/murderer (whom each woman knew by a different name), and compare their stories. Some bits I particularly enjoyed:
“I was amazed at the effect a wedding ring had on my entire life.” – BESSIE.
“How foolish was I … undressed, undone and underwater, all in a matter of months.” – ALICE.
A very funny rendition of “Nearer My God To Thee”, performed by the brides (who in this scene portray gossipy landladies).
Alice’s scene with her mother, who is desperately trying to persuade her willful daughter not to marry the mysterious stranger. Such a wealth of undercurrents there!
After the read-through of the script, Taryn asked the actors what their impressions were. Jen (Alice) really liked the choral yet disassociative aspects. Tennille (Bessie) remarked that an image of the tide coming in kept occurring to her – the play’s rhythms are cyclical. She also found it intriguing that they will all play victims as well as their murderer. Emily (Margaret) was entranced by the rhythm and flow of the writing, which Taryn confirmed will be emphasized by movement – Rick Jones doubles as Movement Coach!
Taryn pointed out that the women are not just re-telling their story; they are re-living it over and over to get rid of the shame they feel. Shame that they were foolish or desperate and so easily taken in by a trickster. Shame at being powerless – women at that time were nothing unless they were married – see quote above from Bessie.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering: yes, there will be actual bathtubs (antiques rented from Addison Plumbing) on stage. With water! Climb the stairs to Alumnae Theatre’s haunted Studio, November 16 – December 1 and meet the brides. This production has already been noted as one of “5 Plays Worth Checking Out in Toronto This Fall” – see http://ellidavis.com/toronto-real-estate-news/2012/10/theatre-plays-october-november.