A Poem for Rabia
Spanning three continents and three generations, Nikki Shaffeeullah’s world premiere currently on stage in the Tarragon Extraspace is an intimate epic full of big ideas. The capable cast performs an exceptional array of accents- some executed with precision and nuance, others less successful- as they each take on multiple characters in the non-linear century-hopping saga of three women connected beyond time and space. The first generation (1853, Calcutta) is the play’s strongest, anchored by a vivacious and sensitive performance from Adele Noronha as the titular Rabia. Quiet, confident, and sneakily goofy, Noronha’s Rabia is impossible not to root for. Her descendants are slightly overshadowed, however, first by the ever-remarkable Virgilia Griffith as a careful but determined independence fighter in 1953 British Guiana, then by Shaffeeullah’s scene-stealing writing that infuses complicated frustration into her own character of Zahra, a near-future activist technically living in a post-prison 2053 Canada but brilliantly recognizable as a clear-eyed portrait of flawed but passionate contemporary progressivism. The first act drags a bit and the second act takes a few confounding tonal detours (there’s a film noir fantasy sequence that’s charming but out of place; the climactic scene verges on twee while the rest of the play keeps its feet firmly on the ground) but Shaffeullah’s ambition and insight, particularly in her complex understanding of her title character’s choices, along with Noronha’s beautiful star turn make A Poem for Rabia stand out in a crowded dramatic landscape.
The Drowning Girls
(Wren Theatre at Red Sandcastle)
Director Tatum Lee has crafted a visually arresting production of Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson & Daniela Vlaskalic’s Edwardian ghost drama set in a laced-draped three-tub’d bathroom where three true stories converge into one overarching monstrosity. Highlighted by a stellar performance from Adrianna Prosser as a skeptical but hopeful wife who is married a single day before being drowned in her bathtub, a trio of brides who share a fate lead the audience through their personal stories, the connections between those stories, and the societal circumstances that facilitated said stories. Whimsical dark humour and dreamy poetry colour the inescapable horror of the proceedings but the weight of Lee’s water-drenched direction adds affectingly inescapable sobriety. The action concludes with a beautiful final image before continuing for another few unnecessary minutes, adding a strange sense of elongation despite the swift 80-minute runtime. The universality of the play’s violence against women theme is the haunting takeaway a little crowded by overwriting but brought to moving light by Lee’s dark production.
(Bremen Town Collective at Next Stage Theatre Festival)
For scheduling reasons, I was only able to catch one show in the first October Next Stage Festival but, with a script by longtime favourite Gregory Prest, and a cast featuring some of the most consistent performers in the country, I knew I wanted to make time for Bremen Town. Unfortunately, despite its competency in general execution, I found the “rural folk tragedy” a bit of a slog with a difficult-to-root-for protagonist despite compelling themes of ageism and identity. It was lovely to see William Webster back on the stage and his supporting character brings a few moments of important pathos to the proceedings but in general the play struggles to find an effective middle ground between atmospheric dreariness and goofy antics as the characters schlep down a long road towards the unknown.