THE UNNATURAL AND ACCIDENTAL WOMEN by Marie Clements, directed by Yvette Nolan, with Gloria May Eshkibok, Michelle Latimer, Gail Maurice, Muriel Miguel, Sarah Podemski, Lisa C. Ravensbergen, Michaela Washburn, Lena Recollet, Deborah Alison, Valerie Buhagiar, J. Patricia Collins, Jarrod MacLean and Gene Pyrz. Presented by Native Earth in association with Buddies in Bad Times at Buddies (12 Alexander). Runs to December 5, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $18-$25, Sunday pwyc. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Sometimes death, even painful death, transfigures the existence of the living.
In Marie Clements 's rich, ambitious play The Unnatural And Accidental Women , that transformation happens to Rebecca ( Lisa C. Ravensbergen ), a Vancouver woman searching for the native mother who walked out of her life 20 years earlier.
On a parallel plane, divorced from our sense of time, a series of women, many of them aboriginal, relive their dreams, anxieties and deaths at the hands of a barber (the intentionally creepy Gene Pyrz , as lethal as Sweeney Todd) who feeds them enough alcohol to poison them. At the hub of this group of women are Aunt Shadie ( Muriel Miguel ), a maternal figure literally born from the earth, and the troubled, eager-to-please Rose ( Valerie Buhagiar ), an English telephone operator whose strict sense of propriety needs softening.
Clements's poetic, time-and-space-leaping script follows Rebecca's quest, moving from the natural world into an artificial, hierarchical society that's emotionally and physically harsher than anything in the wild. It's not an easy tale to sort out at times, but the work's often bawdy humour makes for strong connections between the women's stories and a way of easing us through some horrifying moments.
Director Yvette Nolan unifies the huge work's seemingly disparate elements, which includes a strong multimedia component, and she makes the surreal elements - you've never seen furniture, designed by Red Pepper Spectacle Arts , as animated or as funny as this - a credible part of this world.
Most importantly, neither Clements nor Nolan relegate these women to the status of victims. They've suffered, sure, but they're all strong figures who fight against the odds and do their best with what they have to affirm their lives, even after those lives have ended.
The cast creates a powerful ensemble, especially in the ritualistic choral sections of music and movement created by Tamara Podemski on Christine Plunkett 's sprawling set, lit expressively by Michelle Ramsay .
There are some small problems. Ravensbergen's Rebecca isn't clearly defined in the work's first half, a problem more of the script than the performance. It's only after her night with a seemingly good man ( Jarrod MacLean ) that she connects to an emotional part of herself, becoming more feeling and thus tapping into the world of the dead women. From there Ravensbergen's dramatic trajectory is sure.
The rest of the cast create strong portraits, notably Gloria May Eshkibok as the sad, funny and deliciously earthy Mavis, and the contrasting duo of Buhagiar as the prim Rose, privy to all the deaths, and Miguel, radiating warmth and humanity as the life-celebrating Aunt Shadie.