Written and directed by Rosa Labordé. At Tarragon Theatre. Runs until December 17.
There might be “eight million stories in the naked city” but it’s not a good idea to cram them all into one play. The result is scattered and doesn’t fully focus on anything.
Such is the case with Marine Life, writer-director Rosa Labordé’s surreal, wacky comedy about the pollution of our water by microplastics, climate change, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, Marineland’s animal cruelty, and saving the world, to name a few. These are worthy topics that are dealt with only superficially and need attention in their own separate plays.
It doesn’t help that Sylvia (Nicola Correia-Damude), our heroine who wants to save the planet and rid the world of microplastics, is a fanatic and hardly reasonable. She has her obsessive-compulsive brother John (played convincingly by Justin Rutledge) pee in a jar and not the toilet because he’s so full of medication she doesn’t want it going into the water supply. Has Sylvia never heard of water purification plants?
Sylvia meets Rupert (Matthew Edison), a glib, selfish corporate lawyer, when he hooks her neck while fishing. Truly. There was an instant connection (sorry). To her he’s the enemy, to him she’s an attractive woman he wants to pursue. They banter and lob barbs. Labordé is terrific with these comedic retorts.
But a problem with her writing is that Rupert lies so often from the beginning of the play and neatly explains each lie as if he were in court. After a while the damage is done. We don’t trust him at all. That Sylvia keeps forgiving him weakens her as a character.
In two separate moments, Labordé does make it look as if Rupert will reform, but we never know if he actually follows through or if he’s just telling Sylvia what she wants to hear. This does not strengthen the play. We need to know if the character is to be redeemed.
Trevor Schwellnus has designed a fascinating, effective set of stacks and stacks of connected plastic containers, surrounding half a large globe, representative of the plastic that is choking the planet. Projected on the globe from the time the audience files in, and sporadically during the show, are swirling weather systems. A sound/lighting effect of rain continues for most of the play, but is only addressed properly as a disaster that is happening towards the end. Schwellnus also has a wonderful projection effect of waves lapping along the floor as the rain accumulates. On top of acting, Rutledge also plays and sings the music in the show beautifully.
The performances by Correia-Damude, Edison, and Rutledge are full of conviction and commitment. Correia-Damude is intense, and Edison conveys a slick charm that can be beguiling. It’s just that his dialogue doesn’t make me trust him.
Labordé is a conscientious writer who tackles weighty subjects. Bravo to her. I just think, for Marine Life to be a stronger play, she needs to focus only on one or two stories.
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