By James Karas
*** (out of 5)
A couple of thoughts crossed my mind after watching Wajdi Mouawad’s Tideline now playing at Hart House Theatre. The first was T.S. Eliot’s famous dictum that “humankind cannot bear very much reality”. The second was the enthusiastic “hey, let’s put on a show” heard in the Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland musicals of the 1930s. The “show” that the young actors under the direction of Ken Gass are putting on is a very serious play and not a pleasant musical. They try to express the inexpressible; they try to make us bear some reality through descriptions of startling images in a war-torn place.
The play opens with a young man named Wilfrid (Danny Ghantous) narrating how he found out that his father had died. The phone rang while he was having intercourse and he tautly repeats the conversation more than once as “Hello.” Come. “Your father is dead.”
Wilfrid sets out on a journey to find a place to bury his father. But this is not a narrative but a memory play where the young are making a film and go or want to go from village to village to tell their story. Wilfrid’s dead Father (Erik Mrakovcic) is a walking and talking corpse. Wilfrid is possessed by an Arthurian Knight of God played by an unknightly looking Angela Sun who also doubles as the Director of the film. I could not make sense of the casting decision but Wilfrid is free to imagine a Knight anyway he likes.
Tideline has a blind poet named Wazâân (Kwaku Okyere) who recites the opening lines of the Iliad where the goddess sings of the fatal anger of Achilles that sent the souls of many valiant warriors to Hades, leaving their bodies as spoil for dogs and carrion birds. We will be reminded of that graphic image throughout the play.
The young people of the play remember unspeakable events in their lives and want to preserve the memory of acts too horrible to contemplate. Simone (Cassidy Sadler), Amé (Augusto Bitter) and Josephine (Madeleine Heaven) and Sabbé (Harrison Tanner) display enthusiasm (let’s put on a show) and stun us with events of obscene cruelty and bottomless inhumanity. All the young actors are given opportunities to spread their wings and showcase their talents. Madeleine Heaven even has what amounts to a mad scene.
The production is in association with Canadian Rep Theatre and ENSEMBLE: Canadian Youth Theatre/Théâtre Jeunesse Canadien. Most of the actors are university students or recent graduates.
Tideline is an ambitious and poetic play. It reaches back to Homer for its images and distances us from the horrors and mutilations of war by having the young people remember events from the past and trying to recall and re-enact them for us. The walking and talking dead Father, the imaginary Knight, the making of a film are all devices used to make us bear the reality that Eliot said we cannot bear.
Ken Gass is reasonably successful in bringing out many of the qualities of the play with the young cast. All the characters wear every-day, ordinary clothes. The set, designed by Jung-Hye Kim consists of white painted chairs and benches with a ramp stage left.
Tideline by Wajdi Mouawad in a translation by Shelley Tepperman continues until October 1, 2016 at Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto, Ontario. www.harthousetheatre.ca Telephone (416) 978-8849