The Drowning Girls
By Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, and Daniela Vlaskalic
Directed by Charlie Tomlinson
Starring Beth Graham, Daniela Vlaskalic, and Natascha Girgis
Runs until November 15 @ Tarragon Theatre
By Daina Valiulis
Imagine this. Three gleaming white bathtubs on a shiny black gridded surface lit with gloomy blue lights. Scratchy, jazzy Victorian music plays in the background. One by one, three women emerge from the tubs, gasping for air. These are the Brides of the Bathtub. These are the Drowning Girls, rising from the dead to reclaim their stolen lives.
These three women — Bessie (Daniela Vlaskalic), Alice (Beth Graham), and Margaret (Natasha Girgis) — are charmed and coerced into marriage not only by the money-grubbing scoundrel George Joseph Smith, but also by their own fervent desperation to avoid spinsterhood. As Bessie exclaims in the play, “I was amazed at the effect a wedding ring had on my entire existence!” No sooner have the wills have been signed in favor of Smith does he drown each woman, reaping the benefits of their life savings.
As the brilliantly and lyrically written play begins, the three women speak almost as if one voice, each taking a phrase to build an intense energy that becomes all the more powerful as their different stories are woven together in the end, when they put their “transparently worthless” scumbag husband on trial.
Each actor plays her character beautifully, energetically, extremely physically, and distinctly, but I was particularly gripped by Girgis, whose almost palpably beating heart seemed to be exposed for all to see. Her intensity and emotional honesty were astonishing, encapsulated especially in the moment that Smith proposes to her. The eldest of the three brides, she’s on the way to spinsterhood and comfortable with the idea. That is, until the opportunity presents itself. The otherwise nervous and unsure Margaret, looking hungrily at the engagement ring, goes from wringing her hands to suddenly lunging forward with a desperate grab as she seals her fate.
This (apparently true) story is told just as potently by the lighting design (Narda McCarroll), set and costumes (Bretta Gereke), and music and sound design (Peter Moller) — elements that work together to create the creepy, cold, watery world these women inhabit.
Since its beginning as a 1999 Edmonton Fringe Festival production, The Drowning Girls has won multiple awards, including four Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards and four Betty Mitchell Awards — all well deserved. Altogether, it’s a brilliantly cohesive production that, as George Joseph Smith says, took my breath away.