Review: ABYSS

by Lynn on February 18, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Extraspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Maria Milisavijevic
Directed by Richard Rose
Set and Lighting by Jason Hand
Costumes by Michelle Bailey
Choreography by Nova Bhattacharya
Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne
Starring: Cara Pifko
Gord Rand
Sarah Sherman

An intricate mystery- thriller about looking for a missing woman and how it affects three people looking for her.

The Story. Abyss is written by Maria Milisavljevic, a young German writer. It’s about three friends, Vlado, Sophia, and the narrator who is never named, but referred to as I in the program. They are worried about Karla. She went out to buy cheese at the local store one evening and never came home. Vlado becomes obsessed with finding her. Karla is Vlado’s girlfriend. Sophia and the narrator are sisters. The police won’t do anything even when Karla is missing more than two weeks.

Slowly the story begins to unravel and reveal itself. While Karla is Vlado’s girlfriend, the narrator is his long-time lover. All three have roots in Serbia and Croatia. During one of the conflicts at that time, when Vlado was a kid, German soldiers broke into his home and they killed his mother and other members of his family in front of him. He ran from it and doesn’t seem to have stopped. The mystery of finding Karla reaches across the European underworld and Russia. Vlado knows many people in that nether world who try to solve the mystery of his missing girlfriend.

The Production. Director Richard Rose has produced a terrific production. While the three friends are close, they do not seem to be in either Croatia or Serbia. Rather they are in a sense isolated from their roots. So the cast of Cara Pifko (the narrator), Gord Rand (Vlado) and Sarah Sherman (Sophia) stand on a raised platform, devoid of any prop, that makes it look like they are floating on this small area on some vast darkness.

To add to their closeness and dependence on each other they all hold hands throughout most of the production. They might shift their position but they never let go until something happens at which point, the point is resounding.

They all have secrets and they all are revealed as the relentless pace of the production charges along. Vlado has the most to hide. He is beautifully played by Gord Rand who at times seems haunted, commanding, sinister, and dangerous. Kudos to Jason Hand for his evocative lighting. As Sophia, Sarah Sherman is the most emotional, trying to get a grip as the days drag on and there is no sign of Karla. She is anxious, high-strung over this disappearance, and emotionally fragile. As the narrator, Cara Pifko is the glue that keeps it all together. Interestingly much of the Narrator’s dialogue reads like a novel, with lots of exposition describing a scene, a character, background etc. Added to this is actual dialogue that the Narrator has with Vlado and Sophia.

Pifko gives the piece a kind of urgency; her delivery becomes quicker, more deliberate. She makes you sit forward just a bit in your seat as she brings us closer to the truth.

Maria Milisavljevic has written a stylish, gripping mystery that starts off slowly as the friends wait for word, and then the pace quickens as the clues and mystery gain momentum. You hold your breath until you learn the truth.

Comment. To add to the mystery of the piece, Sophia has an extended description of how to skin a rabbit that weaves all the way through the play. As all three characters are involved in a kind of entwined ballet in moments of the skinning description and dissection, thanks to choreographer Nova Bhattacharya, perhaps the description is a metaphor for what will happen to these friendships? Skinning the rabbit involves cutting the skin with a knife. Vlado carries a knife that he takes out of his pocket and handles too often to let it seem as if it’s innocuous.

Terrific production of an intriguing play.

Tarragon Theatre presents.

Opened: February 11, 2015.
Closes: March 15, 2015.
Reviewed on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm. On Feb. 13.
Cast: 3; 1 man, 2 women.
Running Time: 80 minutes.

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