THEATRE REVIEW: carried away on the crest of a wave
Pictured: Richard Zeppieri, Mayko Nguyen
JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
29 APRIL 2013
TORONTO - In the metaphorical world as in the real one, the best way — perhaps the only way — to eat a whole pod of whales is one mouthful at a time. Some things are just too big to swallow whole. So, in his attempt to digest the unfathomable horror of the Boxing Day tsunami that devastated the coastline of the Indian Ocean back in 2004 (leaving hundreds of thousands dead in its wake), playwright David Yee cuts it up into bite-sized stories and serves them up in a play titled carried away on the crest of a wave. carried away... had its world première Wednesday on the stage of the Tarragon Theatre, where Yee is playwright in residence.
And while his work — a collection of almost a dozen loosely inter-related vignettes — alludes unabashedly to the full devastation of the event, it eschews any attempt to recreate its full horror, choosing instead to examine the individual scars left behind from an event that marked us all. From two Malaysian brothers, adrift on what is left of their family home, to two men trying to come to terms with their own survival, to a Toronto-based shock-jock determined to jump the gun on the old equation that tragedy plus time equals comedy, carried away… bobs gently, sometimes even elegantly, on the ripples spawned by one of the most devastating events of the current century.
But, at other times, Yee overreaches, throwing in elements of magical realism and otherwise getting tripped up by his own cleverness as he attempts to tie everything and everyone together as proof that, as he puts it, “We are all connected” and “None of us alone.”
Director Nina Lee Aquino has assembled a strong ensemble here, and much credit goes to them, both individually and collectively, for the commitment they bring to the project. In one or two of the vignettes that comprise Yee’s two-and-a-half-hour script, it is primarily the strength of the performers that keeps things afloat. Richard Lee, Richard Zeppieri, Kawa Ada, Ash Knight, John Ng and a delightful Eponine Lee join forces with the beautifully understated Mayko Nguyen to tackle the myriad character demands Yee gives them with varying but mostly positive degrees of success.
As for the set — a plastic-swathed water park created by Camellia Koo, presumably in emulation of a wall of water frozen in time — it’s less successful, often making its point at the expense of Yee’s intersecting narratives, despite the best efforts of Michelle Ramsay’s lighting.
This is, of course, a huge topic, and one must applaud both Yee’s ambition in tackling it and finally his success, limited though it is, for while he never truly gives us a full picture of the leviathan which inspired it, he certainly leaves us with its taste lingering in our mouths But instead of carried away on the crest of a wave, a less ambitious and certainly more reflective title just might have been carried along on the crest of a wave.