by Lynn on February 10, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Factory Theatre Mainspace. Written by Anton Piatigorsky. Directed by Chris Abraham. Set and lighting by John Thompson. Costumes by Barbara Rowe. Sound and music by Richard Feren. Starring: David Ferry, Sam Malkin, Liisa Repo-Martell, Cara Ricketts. Produced by Crow’s Theatre.

David Ferry

Playwright Anton Piatigorsky has created a multi-layered, elegantly written play about a long-lost book of fiction called Eternal Hydra. The mythic book was written by Gordias Carbuncle a minor Irish writer with major pretensions. His book was supposed to cover 100 chapters—like the Hydra of mythology that had 100 heads—spanning countries and historical events. But the book fell a bit short and was never published. Then it fell off the literary radar.

Enter Vivian Ezra, a British literary scholar. She has gotten hold of the manuscript and is desperate for it to be published. She has appointed herself the protector and saviour of the Carbuncle reputation. So intense is she in her zeal, that she imagines Carbuncle back to life, working with her to get the work published.

The publisher is interested, but only if it’s published along side a work of historical fiction by a black writer named Pauline Newberry. Newberry has Carbuncle in her novel as a character in Paris in the 1930s with a black writer named Selma Thomas. Naturally Vivian balks at that. She does not want the glory of Carbuncle’s work to be diluted by sharing.

Piatigorsky is writing about interesting things: ownership of intellectual property, appropriation of voice, genius, talent vs. hard slogging work. There are interesting scenes in which Gordias takes the scholarship and research someone has done for him, and appropriates it as his own, without acknowledging the woman who did the work. A former slave makes a living making shoes and finds that a white politician has taken her story as his own. She says it was like hearing her voice in his mouth.

Layers of the play are peeled away revealing more layers adding more complexity to the story. At times I found myself trying to clarify where I was in the story and whose story I was listening too. Piatigorsky is definitely an elegant, complex writer. His writing has the sheen and polish of a burning intellect. But I couldn’t help thinking after seeing the play when it was first done in 2009 and in a workshop and now a final version, that perhaps the play suffers from its own cleverness. Perhaps one less layer would say the same thing, more clearly.

That said, director Chris Abraham’s production is, as always, clean, spare and beautiful in its simplicity. Areas of the set are carved or encased in John Thompson’s lighting. Characters are vibrantly created thanks to a strong cast and Abraham’s care in realizing the relationships to the full.

And again, what is this annoying penchant for listing the actors but not the characters they play? Not even in the bios? In the Eternal Hydra program all that is listed beside the actor’s name  in the bio is the word ‘actor’ in brackets. Not helpful folks.

As Gordias Carbuncle, David Ferry prowls the stage. His Carbuncle is mix of charm, mess, desperation, usually for money, danger, bluster and drink. Carbuncle is seductive and Ferry makes him eminently watchable.

As Vivian, Liisa Repo-Martell is uptight and obsessed as she clutches Carbuncle’s massive masterpiece tight to her chest, while trying to get an extraordinary deal for the book. You can see Vivian’s brain racing when she is faced with possibly sharing the limelight with Pauline Newberry, the last thing she wants to do.

I found Cara Ricketts more credible as the former slave who made beautiful shoes than I did as the more contemporary Pauline Newberry. As Newberry I thought that Ricketts was trying too hard. There was too much effort to appear in control and confident. As the young black woman making shoes, Ricketts brought a shyness and initial insecurity to the character that was endearing. Also impressive was the character’s slow growth into a confident, aware woman until she realized that someone else took her story.

As the publisher who was eager to publish Carbuncle’s book, Sam Malkin gave him a certain dignity.On the whole, Internal Hydra is a thoughtful, intellectual play given an impressive production.

 ETERNAL HYDRA plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace until Feb. 13.

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