Review: High Tide

Wes Babcock

This show is ambitious in its choice of subject, reflecting the vast scope of Rachel Carson’s life of work about the sea. First-time playwright and actor Morgan Johnson creates some strong moments of humour and pathos during her performance as Carson, the esteemed (or reviled, depending on your point of view) naturalist, and we cling to these as the rest of the show flows somewhat flatly around us. I think this show has a ton of potential, but needs some help to unlock it from where it is presently beached.

BraveNewWorlds (Web)

Johnson sets the stage simply, and quickly convinces the audience that they are an important part of the show. The play follows the naturalist character through musing moods of composition into polished public addresses. Johnson begins by transforming the viewers into the inspirational sea, and follows by taking us to scientific conferences, where we become Carson’s slightly less-esteemed colleagues. As the sea, we are the source of inspiration, and as scientists, Carson is striving to inspire us to take a stand on the environment. The audience is addressed directly throughout this show in its roles as the sea and the scientific community, and while this technique has a lot of evocative potential, it remains largely unrealized, or at least inexplicit.

Johnson clung to a pencil and notebook throughout her performance, but as the show went on, it seemed more like these props were holding her. There were one or two moments when she put the notebook down, and I could see the actor relishing this freedom by her much greater physicality. Unfortunately, the character’s relationship to these items remained constant from the show’s beginning to its end, and they rule her performance. Despite Carson’s profound struggle with the willful ignorance of polluters and chemical companies, the personal growth this should cause isn’t realized in Johnson’s performance.

This is precisely where I feel the play holds its greatest potential: developing the stakes for the character and demonstrating her growth. This could be done by expanding the range of movement in the space, and by making these movements more intentional. Moreover, by thinning out the script’s wordiness to reveal a bit more of Carson-the-human in balance with Carson-the-scientist, Johnson would create a nice parallel with Carson’s work, which strives to “revolutionize the way we deal with the self-created binary between human being and the environment around us.” Then we could see the growth of the woman along with the growth of the movement she is credited with creating.

I really hope I have a chance to see this play again once a bit more direction has been developed into the performance, because I liked the concept and many of the choices Johnson has made in her creation. Though it doesn’t live up to its potential, this young woman’s début effort deserves your notice and support, and at 45 minutes you should be able to squeeze it into your schedule.

 

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