The Citadel Theatre: “The Drowning Girls”

I was drawn to The Drowning Girls at the Citadel, partly because I wanted to see a Bretta Gerecke design sans Jonathan Christenson, but also because the stories that inspired the play were fascinating:

Meet Bessie, Alice and Margaret: over a short period of time in the early 1900s, these three wealthy women were each seduced, wed, insured, and ultimately slain — all by the same man.

This was the first time Mack and I attempted to buy rush tickets – all remaining seats available at 50% off the adult price one hour before curtain (it’s quite a significant discount, with Rice Theatre tickets priced at $50). We lined up a few minutes before 12:30 p.m. for the matinee showing on Sunday, and with only a pair of people in front of us, getting tickets was not a problem.

After we settled in our seats (the theatre looked about three-quarters full), the lights dimmed, and the usual omniscient voice reminded us to turn off all electronic devices. New, however, was the announcement that the Citadel would donate money to the Actor’s Fund of Canada if the performance was entirely free of gadget-emitted sounds and lights – we thought that was an innovative approach to a frustrating issue.

As for the show itself – fabulous. I loved the clean set – the black reflective floor, divided into a grid, and three immaculate porcelain bathtubs, each with a polished silver showerhead positioned above. Water was used throughout the show as a prop, as a metaphor, for affect, so between the already-filled bathtubs and the showerhead that was turned on and off at different intervals, the three actresses performed the entire eighty minutes soaked to the skin. It makes me cold just thinking about it, but they did it with grace to spare.

The production was able to convey the women’s feeling of claustrophobia right from the start, the iron vice of familial and societal expectation cloistering all other possibilities, and brutally exploited by the man who appeared to be their saviour. One by one, each woman replayed their story, underlining the ties that bound them all to the same tragic thread – the whirlwind romances, the shotgun marriages, the isolation, the psychological manipulation, the cruel endings.

The trio of actresses were required to take on multiple parts in addition to their main roles as the three women, and all were versatile in embodying the vastly different personalities (Natascha Girgis’ molasses thick Scottish accent blew us away). Beth Graham impressed me the most with her commitment to each character and her electric energy throughout. And in spite of some pin-drop tone reversals (from moments of black humour to sombre remembrance), the transitions were seamless, and more importantly, remained authentic and believable.

I have to admit I was a bit jarred by the optimistic ending though, featuring a cascade of jubilant bubbles. Even if justice was served, the women were still dead, betrayed by a husband and a society unwilling to accept the women as they were.

At the conclusion of the performance, the actresses thanked the audience for supporting a play originally conceived for the Edmonton Fringe, and that has now toured as far as Toronto. It was their final show at the Citadel, and happened to be their 99th performance (or, as Graham called it, their “Wayne Gretzky show”). Bravo to the cast and crew for a fantastic show and a great run.

One thought on “The Citadel Theatre: “The Drowning Girls”

  1. I also attended that last showing of the play, and I thought it was marvelous. I think that the contrast between the dark, almost garish, humor and the somber reflections was apt; both the audience and the three women were horrified by the murders but you also have to look back on their willful blindness with a kind of wry humor. I’ve never seen water used to that effect before, and I think it was really amazing – I hope they are able to find future spaces that can accommodate this show.

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