Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Tideline

Tideline
Writer: Wajdi Mouawad
Director: Anna Jahjah
Chippen Theatre
October 20-29, 2022

The magical and confrontational Tideline by award-winning Lebanese-Canadian writer Wadji Mouawad is a welcome change from domesticated issue-based drama. Directed with flair by Anna Jahjah, the production takes the audience on the strange and rich odyssey of a 21st century exile in search of his origins.

Wilfrid (a very convincing Adeeb Razzouk) receives the news that his father has died when he answers the phone while having casual sex. Already disaffected from life and deplorably insouciant about his lack of commitment, he nevertheless commits to burying a man he hardly seems to have known but who is deeply connected to him. It seems however that it is not so easy to bury the past – especially a body that is so conversational.

His mother’s family claim to have no room for his father in the family plot. They have had no room in their hearts for the father whom they blame for Wilfred’s mother’s death during childbirth and show only a superficial acceptance of Wilfred who determines to appeal for the right to bury his father in his land of origin. In his journey across this an unnamed and war-torn land Wilfred is joined in his search by others who have lost their fathers and their home.

Each of the company have potentially ineradicable memories of human brutality. The girl who sings, Simone (a lovely and hopeful Cassady Booth), has witnessed the killing of her lover and family, the drummer, Sabbé (a wistful Anthony White), has held his father’s head in his hands and Amé (a conflicted Antoine Razzouk) has killed his own father. Each brutal act has a long history, as the evocation of classical literature through the figure of the blind prophet Teiresias (Lucas Connolly) reminds us. Memorable too is the sculptural Josephine (Kirsty Jordan) carrying her burden of telephone books, maintaining the memory of many lost lives.

At the same time as Tideline explores both the challenges of return to a place that no longer recognises itself, it also maps the development of Wilfred from a self-obsessed, immature young man to a man who can accept and bear responsibility. Initially, we are shown his capacity for trivial self-dramatisation when a film director (Gerry Sont) appears with megaphone, tropical shirt and crew to record the more poignant moments of his life and his reliance upon an imaginary friend from childhood, the Knight Giromelans (again a versatile Sont), for encouragement. Ultimately, he dispenses with both ways of expressing selfhood.

The twin highlights of the performance are opposite in effect. The first is the very comical conversations that take place between Wilfred’s dead father (a superb Neil Modra who never forgets he is a corpse) and the Knight Girmolans, between a ghost and a dream, played with consummate timing and nuanced wit. The second highlight is the very gentle and moving closing scene in which Wilfred washes his father, sharing this last rite with the others of the company, before consigning  him, weighted with memories, to the ebb and flow of the sea.

The contrast in mood between the two highlights characterises the play. The first act is fast-paced, moving rapidly from scene to scene while second is reflective and philosophical drawing upon intracultural threads to widen its base as a story of exile and origin, of return and challenge, of separation and connectedness. A multilayered and surrealistic work, Tideline is sensitively envisioned and creatively staged by the very exciting Théâtre Excentrique.

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