Images powerfully portray the message at the heart of Annabel Soutar’s play, The Watershed—that it’s time for Canadians to stand up and protect their water supply. Soutar’s message was most powerfully communicated subliminally through a visceral encounter with the land. A CanStage production, projection designer, Denyse Karn creates a sense of movement, atmosphere and mood through a series of projected images on the walls, floor and ceiling. The Environmental Lakes Area (ELA) near Kenora came alive through the projections of ice particles dancing in the air. The gurgles of a pristine frozen lake, and ice cracking in Thomas Ryder Payne’s evocative sound design, invited the viewers to take a deep breath of fresh northern air. Soutar’s use of verbatim speeches and interviews with Council of Canadian’s chairperson Maude Barlow, politicians, scientists and representatives from private industry, were also quite moving. But when the playwright attempted to project her own persona into the story line the experience became less appealing.
Although Kristen Thomson put in a stellar performance as the playwright who goes on a journey to discover why the federal government chose to close the ELA in 2012; her role and that of her husband, parents and daughters, detracted from the power of the encounter. With that frame removed, the colourful strokes in the painting might have become much bolder and dynamic. When the factual conclusions and ideology were presented directly from the horse’s mouth—the politicians, researchers etc.—the sense of being preached at evaporated—allowing the audience to draw its own conclusions.
The eight actors seamlessly took on a variety of roles, sexes, ages and political stripes. Of note: Amelia Sargisson’s effective portrayal of the anguished scientific researcher, Diane Orihel; Tara Nicodemo’s pompous posturing as Tory MP, Greg Rickford, and Bruce Dinsmore, as Stephen Harper, soulfully singing by a campfire. The images, interspersed only with documentary footage, would have been extremely effective in making the viewers take note—deepening director Chris Abraham’s invitation for the audience to partake in a visceral adventure.
A part of “Panamania”; the play was commissioned by Don Shipley, and co-produced by Crow’s Theatre and Soutar’s own Montreal-based company, “Porte Parole”. It runs until July 19th at the Canadian Stage Company’s Berkeley Theatre.