TIDELINE by Wajdi Mouawad, directed by Bill Lane, with Michael Rubenfeld, Sugith Varughese, Andrew Moodie, Dalal Badr, Bobby del Rio, Sean Dixon, Audrey Dwyer and Dylan Trowbridge. Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). Previews Thursday-Friday (November 17-18), opens Saturday (November 19) and runs to December 11, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $25-$35, previews $12, Sunday pwyc-$20. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNNNN
When you consider that the bible is basically a bunch of good stories, it's no wonder that Michael Rubenfeld makes the connection between storytelling and religion. " Storytelling has a religious feel," he says. "It's probably the oldest tradition, a way of keeping us linked to the community and the world."
Stories are also key, thematically, to Wajdi Mouawad's Tideline, which receives its English-language premiere at Factory Theatre in Shelley Tepperman's translation.
Tideline's central figure, Wilfrid, played by Rubenfeld, is a Westerner who travels across the ocean to bury his father in his native land. But Wilfrid's journey really starts when he arrives in the unnamed war-torn country; there, he meets several other displaced young people with their own tales to tell.
"There's a kind of salvation in telling stories, a way of understanding that we're not alone."
The young Wilfrid's a pretty good storyteller himself. He regularly sees himself as the star at the centre of a film shoot, and he's created an imaginary friend, a knight straight out of King Arthur's time, to assist him when he's in trouble.
That fantasy-like scenario might sound familiar if you've seen Lebanese-born Quebecois writer Mouawad's Alphonse, a fine solo show about an imaginative youth who sets off on an epic adventure and begins his journey to adulthood.
"Recognizing the power of the imagination is vital in Tideline," admits Rubenfeld, who's shown his skills as actor (The Comedy Of Errors), director (Essay) and writer (Spain, which he also helmed).
"Just when you think you've figured out what Mouawad wants to say, he goes off in a different direction. The play asks large questions, and at the end of an intense journey Wilfrid has really only figured out that it's time to start growing up, to take responsibility for his actions and who he is."
Tideline is large in length as well as its issues, but it's so layered that there's no place to edit it down. Rubenfeld has to grapple with some huge monologues and is onstage for every scene but one.
"I started learning those monologues first, before any of the rehearsals started. I've never been in a play where the lines were so tough to memorize.
"That's partly because of the heightened style. The danger is getting lost in the words, giving them a singsong recitation that's unconnected to their meaning. That can also be a problem with Shakespeare, and it was helpful to have done a Shakespeare this past summer and learned how not to deliver the text."
And what has Rubenfeld's work as writer and director taught him when he returns to acting?
"When I get back onstage now, I find that my level of awareness is greater and I'm quicker at understanding what has to happen and, if something's not working, why it isn't. I think I can bring more into the rehearsal room, be more collaborative with a director.
"Watching actors like Richard Greenblatt and Jordan Pettle, when I directed them last summer in Essay, I learned more about what you're allowed to do as a performer. As a result, I feel I'm a better actor myself."