Cara Pifko, Sarah Sherman and Gord Rand in Abyss
Reviewed by James Karas
Three people holding hands stand on stage for about eighty minutes in Maria Milisavljevic’s play Abyss now playing at the Tarragon Extra Space. They are identified by personal pronouns: I (Cara Pifko), HE (Gord Rand) and SHE (Sarah Sherman).
The three have a story to tell and the personal pronouns are used to identify them because they play several roles in the play. I is the narrator and HE and SHE represent several characters in the story. I and Sophia are sisters and Vlado lives with I and her friend Clara. Clara goes out on a rainy night and she never returns. The bulk of the narrative with many twists and turns is concerned with the search for Clara.
Rand also plays Yan, a troubled man with a Croatian father and a Serbian mother during the Yugoslavian bloodshed of the 1990’s.
The central story of the search for the missing woman can be told quickly and in a straight forward way but Milisavljevic has chosen to jump from one incident to the next and the characters jump in and out of the narrative.
Sophia screeches a number of steps and directions about killing. It turns out that she is talking about slaughtering and eating a rabbit. There are images of bloodshed and violence that are no doubt related to the savagery of the Yugoslavian wars.
There are sudden emotional outbursts, indeed screams that abate as quickly as they come.
Nis Randers, a poem by Otto Ernst, is printed in the program and quoted in the play. It is about a violent storm at sea. Nis jumps in a boat to save a man who can’t get free from a mast. His bravery results in the saving of his missing brother. The turmoil and the loss at sea may be seen as metaphors for the tumult through which the people in the play go until they find some peace.
Unfortunately, the play does not work. The actors are constrained by the narrative structure of the play where I does most of the talking as well as the physical restraint of holding hands throughout.
The non-linear narrative is not always easy to follow and in the end it seems to be much ado about relatively little.
The play probably reads much better than it works on stage. The information relayed by the actors, the references and the numerous characters represented by the three move too quickly to be grasped. A careful reading of the play may produce better results than an impulse to look at your watch.
This is the English language premiere of Abyss and it comes from Germany with an impressive pedigree. According to Milisavljevic’s biography, Abyss received the 2013 Kleist Promotional Award for Young Dramatists and was named one of the five best new plays of 2013 by Spiegel Magazine.
What may have worked in Germany has not travelled well to Canada.
Abyss by Maria Milisavljevic opened on February 11 and will play until March 15, 2015 at the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario. www.tarragontheatre.com