Childhood memories power The Frequency of Water
Wednesday, Jan 22, 2014 06:00 am
Runs Jan. 23 to 26 at 7:30 p.m. with Saturday-Sunday matinees.
PCL Theatre in the Arts Barns
10330 – 84 Ave.
Water is awash with its own flow and eddy, and brims with crosscurrents that connect all life on Earth.
Since our bodies are 60 to 65 per cent made up of water, our link to the transparent liquid is inevitable.
That’s the premise of playwright Carol Murray-Gilchrist’s The Frequency of Water playing at Edmonton’s Arts Barns until Jan. 26.
In this Kaybridge production directed by Maralyn Ryan, Murray-Gilchrist goes one step further. She argues that water molecules retain memories and are deeply affected by human action and interaction.
It’s radical. It’s refreshing. It’s a powerful idea inspired by the childhood memories of Prof. Michael Garrett. In front of a classroom of students, he defends a scientific thesis based on the belief that water holds memories and emotions.
The thesis stems from pent-up obsessions he developed after visiting his grandmother, a dowser more commonly known as a “water witch.”
As Garrett explains the science behind his thesis, his memories flow with events from a jolting summer. A trio of characters – his grandmother; Annie, the mysterious girl; and Mikey, the professor’s 13-year-old self – peel back time and gradually divulge secrets from the past.
Mikey is dumped at his grandmother’s house after his father takes off to Hawaii for the summer with his new girlfriend. Feeling a desperate sense of rejection and loneliness, Mikey’s life “sucks” and he turns to the Walkman for company.
His grandmother, a warm, caring back-to-nature woman who has no running water in the house and washes clothes out of a bucket, tries to teach him dowsing.
Believing it to be scientifically impossible, he views it as trick, an illusion. Mikey resents her instructions and in anger lashes out screaming, “Everyone thinks you’re a crackpot!”
But curiosity gets the better of Mikey and one day in a calm frame of mind, he picks up a wooden rod and feels the vibrations of water.
At the same time, a mysterious young girl, Annie, walks into their yard. She has just moved into town and her stepfather is a Bible-thumper with a boatload of money and troubles.
Annie is a light-hearted, fun-loving girl who initially sets out to make friends. But an evil darkness thrusts itself into her life and one day she disappears.
As an adult, Garrett goes back to Lake Ondine near his grandmother’s home to conduct an experiment. Once a pristine lake filled with majestic loons, it is now polluted and covered with weeds.
As the professor plumbs the lake, he finds a carpetbag chained to an engine block. Inside the carpetbag is the body of a 13-year-old girl.
Dave Horak, a locally based multi-platform artist, handles the role as if it were written for him. From the moment he opens the play scowling at tardy students, to the final unguarded, gush of emotion that cleanses his spirit, Horak gives his audience a finely-calibrated performance.
Jack Walker, 13, who plays the younger Mikey, is drowning in a sea of confusion, anger and hurt. A strong performer even at such a young age, Walker reveals that stoked rage with just the right degree of control. Yet upon realizing that he is also loved, Mikey revels in the joy of companionship.
Michele Vance-Hehir as the dowser brings a sense of calmness and serenity to the show. Her soft-spoken words and gentleness are the production’s stabilizing force in a microcosm full of conflict.
And Emma Walker, 15, as the mysterious Annie is at once graceful, whimsical and full of innocent wisdom. Hers is probably the smallest role and yet demands an incredible transformation of character from a sunny to a fearful personality. In a few short scenes, Walker effectively exposes us to how her world has split in two.
As the director, Ryan’s clever blocking tells the two stories simultaneously and ratchets the tension notch by notch. But even her skills and the phenomenal cast are unable to plug the play’s one weakness.
The audience never sees the face of evil. We are only told about events from the good guys. Unfortunately, the telling – as opposed to showing – waters down the impact of evil.
But the final scene, which borders on theatrical kitsch, somehow manages to be beautiful and is a parting success. It also leaves us with a powerful message to care for the very waters that nourish us.