The Scavenger’s Daughter is a case of style over substance

THE SCAVENGER'S DAUGHTER by Susanna Fournier (PARADIGM Productions). At Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Runs to January 27. $20-$35,.

THE SCAVENGER’S DAUGHTER by Susanna Fournier (PARADIGM Productions). At Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Runs to January 27. $20-$35, Sunday pwyc. See listing. Rating: NN

After Susanna Fournier‘s ambitious Empire Trilogy debuted last December with the striking and commanding The Philosopher’s Wife, expectations were high for the second instalment, The Scavenger’s Daughter.

Alas, this Empire shows signs of crumbling or at least of internal dissent. Where the first play was precise, gripping and sharply acted with a timeless yet urgent narrative about gender and class The Scavenger’s Daughter scrambles around in the dirt, unsure about what it wants to say.

Perhaps that’s intentional. After all, we have travelled from the realm of reason and philosophy into one, set 20 years later, where people are scrounging about and scavenging for anything: food, drugs, sex, dignity.

In a bleak dystopia set during an endless war, soldier Jack (Josh Johnston) returns to the camp after being away (there’s a suggestion he met a character from the first play). In the army compound, he reunites with fellow soldier Ash (Conor Wylie), who’s got a sideline pushing a diluted form of the army’s morphine supply. Meanwhile, Jack is trying to ignore his former girlfriend, Sarah (Samantha Brown), who’s taken over the running of her very ill mother’s brothel.

Overseeing everything like some square-jawed Orwellian despot is army commander Webb (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio), who barks out orders and also fills in backstory about the world.

Perhaps not trusting the strength of their own storytelling, Fournier and director ted witzel have structured the play into 26 scenes that include stage directions. But why? It’s not like there’s any leaping back and forth in time and place. Each scene is named after a letter of the alphabet, presumably because Jack has, in his time away, learned how to read.

But as one slackly shaped scene leads to another, this gimmick merely makes restless audience members conscious of how many scenes are still to come.

In his program notes, witzel talks about the idea of toxic masculinity. That’s certainly an intriguing theme to explore, but besides the male-centric dramatis personae and milieu, it doesn’t seem very developed here. After Fournier sets up the basic characters there’s also a cook figure played by Christopher Stanton she doesn’t have them do anything interesting.

And even the title, which refers to a torture device once used on Josh, doesn’t resonate in any meaningful way.

The strongest elements of The Scavenger’s Daughter come from the designers, particularly scenographer Michelle Tracey, who uses earth and coloured lights create disturbing effects, and Ben McCarthy, whose sound design from the clanging of a door to a low-level rumbling shakes us up more than the script or performances.

Here’s hoping the trilogy’s finale, Four Sisters, set 259 years after the events in this piece, shows the Empire, and Fournier, striking back more effectively.

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