Open: 03/15/13- Close: 03/30/13
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Brianna Essland
A little over a hundred years ago, a woman named Bessie Mundy was viciously drowned by her husband. The Drowning Girls – a curious yet engaging play by Strange Sun Theatre Co.’s Beth Graham, Daniela Vlaskalic, Charlie Tomlinson – recounts this tragedy, plus those of two other women. Featuring three actresses (Kate Danson, Marissa Porto, Nancy Rodriguez), Girls reports on the real-life deaths of “The Brides of the Bathtub” at the hands of the husband they all had in common. A twisted tale indeed, the play at times seems trapped in the middle of two genres (hardcore drama, dark comedy) but the production comes to life with fantastic performances and swift direction.
Bessie Mundy. Alice Burnham. Margaret Lofty. Three women lusting for love, swept of their feet by a suave yet demanding gentleman, isolated from their families… and found dead in their bathtubs. These horrifying(ly true) incidents occurred years apart, which could have potentially made it tricky to mount a production based on all three. But the director and the writers are wise: the very stylized choice to have the wives know each other, to look out for each other and to present their stories communally is successfully employed. In chronological order, we learn about three different but equally vulnerable women whose lives suddenly changed (and ended) upon meeting George Joseph Smith. When a certain character is not the focal point, that actress sustains the action by playing other key supporting roles. Kate Danson as an unsympathetic doctor is exceptionally effective. In fact, one of the most disturbing elements about the play is the way an authoritative male figure convinces a woman that “nothing’s wrong” or “you’re just tired” or “you’re just crazy,” as easy as snapping a finger.
Throughout their storytelling, the actors sit, stand and switch between three bathtubs, complete with showerheads dispensing water at various points (Daryl Embry's set design is simple and eerie). The action is meticulously and masterfully blocked by director Jessica Bashline. The constant movement only enhances the absolute whirlwind these women experienced upon marrying George.
The acting is top-notch: a fine blend of vulnerability and strength pouring out of each performer. Rodriguez particularly shines as Alice’s apprehensive family member. How horrendous to witness this woman have such strong inclinations that something’s not quite kosher about this man… yet not do a thing about it.
Some of the dialogue gets too plotty (“I never saw my daughter alive again” is used two or three times. It loses its power after the first). And at times the production veers into Vagina Monologues territory when the multi-character scenes (Wife and Doctor, Niece and Aunt, Husband and Wife, etc.) are much more interesting. These are versatile actresses who are best when working with one another.
But ultimately, The Drowning Girls presents a fascinating story in a stimulating manner. It’s frightening how much water falls upon these actors throughout the show. More frightening: George Joseph Smith actually got away with this three times. Grade: B
Walkerspace : 46 Walker Street