by Lynn on January 21, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Susanna Fournier

Directed by Ted Witzel

Scenography by Michelle Tracey

Sound by Ben McCarthy

Projections by Wesley McKenzie

Cast: Samantha Brown

Carlos González-vio

Josh Johnston

Christopher Stanton

Conor Wylie

A play of war, its crushing influence on the boys and men who fight it in a production that smothers the play with distracting technology.

 The Story. In an unnamed land war has been raging for 20 years.  Jack has been fighting for 15 of those years. was orphaned and indentured to fight at 6 years old. After 15 years a soldier is allowed to be released from the military and join society. In Jack’s case he met a philosopher who taught him to read, perhaps how to think and would buy his freedom in exchange for marrying his daughter. This doesn’t go down too well with Sarah, the woman Jack was ‘engaged’ to (or rather had an understanding with) before he went away to fight.

The King who is at war with a faction of priests and he takes over the drug tracks. Everyone in Jack’s camp of soldiers, including the commanding officer Webb is addicted to morphine. With the King taking over the drug supplies everyone is going through painful withdrawal. There is precious little food. They are waiting impatiently for the next battle–a lousy combination.

 The Production. Scenographer, Michelle Tracey has opened up the Buddies in Bad Times space to the walls. There is a huge mound of black earth in the middle of the room. A path of wood slats leads up from the mound to way up stage.  A soldier sits at the bottom of the mound facing upstage. He is Ash (Conor Wylie). There are make-shift screens of sheets stage right and left. The stage directions indicating where we are and how long has elapsed are projected in various sized fonts onto a black screen stage right. Sometimes it’s hard to read what’s projected there either because the font is small or the lighting is not consistent. Frustrating.

When the play begins the earth on the mound moves and a naked man emerges from it wearing a gas mask. He cleans himself off and puts on his clothes. This is Jack (Josh Johnston). He has come home from battle. He’s been fighting for 15 years, since he was six. Now he expects to be released from his duties.

Ben McCarthy has created an almost constant sound design of low sounding rumbles in the distance, explosions or just noise of war that distract and bedevil. That, coupled with the desperate need for drugs, does ramp up the angst quotient. Ash is the camp’s supplier of the drugs. Conor Wylie as Ash is usually calm and watchful in trying not to give himself away. But then Commander Webb (Carlos González-Vio)  wants Ash to find the dealer,  (not knowing it’s Ash) which of course makes Ash anxious.

For all the space available in Buddies in Bad Time Theatre, the action generally takes place in a relatively small area—around the mound and downstage. Susanna Fournier’s story in this case is rather a ‘small’ one—men waiting for their interview to leave service, get their next fix of drugs, or join another battle. Director Ted Witzel uses all manner of technology to bombard us with ‘stuff’ to ‘inform’ the story. Videos of soldiers marching, newsreels of events and others are projected on two of the screens up stage. Because the screens are uneven sheeting the images are distorted and trying to make out what they are is not easy. Then there are the constantly changing stage directions projected onto the black screen stage left and the ambient noise. And in the middle of it all is a character talking presumably about stuff the playwright wants to convey. I find Ted Witzel’s productions to be maddeningly self-centered, as if the director and not the play is most important. His work in The Scavenger’s Daughter is no different.

Of the cast, Carlos González-Vio as Webb and Christopher Stanton as Cook give the most varied and credible performances. González-Vio is compelling in his stillness and perception at what is going on in that camp. Stanton as Cook is twitchy, obsequious and stoical in an impossible situation—no food!

 Comment. The Scavenger’s Daughter is the second play in Susanna Fournier’s Empire Trilogy. She has created an empire over 500 years full of war, overpowering male attitudes, the strong overpowering the weak, violence and brutality. When you consider that the men in the play seemed to have been orphaned, trained to kill and not taught to read since they were six-years-old, wouldn’t that thuggish, violent behaviour seem a natural result? Because Jack is taught to read are we to assume that enlightenment and a more human and humane person has developed? If that’s the intent, it isn’t clear in the play.

Ted Witzel writes in his Director’s Note—(he doesn’t use capital letters): “masculinity is in crisis. the patriarchal ethos of western imperialism is finally facing a substantial challenge. ‘toxic masculinity’ hasn’t just entered the lexicon, it’s gone viral.’ Several steps have been missed between Fournier’s play and Witzel’s assessment of what it’s about. Or is the audience supposed to fill in all the missing bits? Hmmm.

The Scavenger’s Daughter is not a person; it’s a device of torture. When Jack emerges from the dirt he sits on the ground, his feet flat on the ground and his knees bent up close to his body. His arms are around his knees and he pulls them in closer. The device of torture would have encased his body and tightened around the arms and the knees so that the person would have died as his organs were crushed and he would suffocate.

I’ve seen an example of The Scavenger’s Daughter up close. A few years ago I went to the beautiful medieval city of Bruges, Belgium. I went to two museums: the first was the Chocolate Museum and the second was the Museum of Torture. There in the basement of a well-kept building, with classical music playing in the background, was every conceivable kind of torture device to inflict pain, suffering and punishment. The Scavenger’s Daughter was one of them; bands of metal that encased the body and tightened around it.  Informative plaques in front of each example told of its origin and how it worked. At the beginning of the exhibit was a simple plaque that said that all these devices were invented by men. I wish this production of The Scavenger’s Daughter was as clear.

Paradigm Productions presents:

Opened: Jan. 17, 2019.

Closes: Jan. 27, 2019.

Running Time:  2 hours, approx.

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