Oceans Apart Fails to Make Waves
I will be the first to admit that I don’t know anyone who’s fought in the military nor do I know anyone who’s suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. My knowledge about PTSD I have gleaned from watching the occasional war movie and/or theatre play and having watched a few documentaries on the History channel. What I can, at least, say for certainty is that Oceans Apart, written by and starring Alain Chauvin, is an immature portrayal (at best) of this tragic condition. A shallow look at one Canadian soldier’s return home from Afghanistan, this piece would benefit from a longer development period, more research, and a stronger cast.
Oceans Apart, as previously stated, is about one man’s return home from service. While on a mission overseas, our protagonist Patrick undergoes some serious trauma including witnessing the nearly fatal injury of one of his comrades and shooting a child soldier. These two incidences are what prevent Patrick from being able to reintegrate back into ‘normal’ society when he gets back to Canada. After taking a cross country tour and meeting up with his now physically disfigured friend Joe (played by Daniel Landry), the PTSD slowly but surely begins to take control of Patrick and it isn’t until Joe’s sister Carol (played by Rebecca Laviolette) reaches out to him does he realize that he needs help.
I am certainly not here to debate the realities of PTSD, but the overall writing of this piece is so weak that I still have no idea what I am supposed to take away from it or what is to be learned from it. There is nothing in the writing that answers the question, “why this piece and why now?” nor does it seem to suggest a course of action or resolution for this very real problem. The exposition and dialogue in this show run from pretentious (“I was bored to the point of necrosis”) to just plain bad (“It was war, man.”) and the voiceovers are unnecessary and awkward when they could have just been acted out by Chauvin himself.
The performances leave a lot to be desired, though I am aware that this production encountered cast drop outs during the final few weeks before Fringe. There is a lot of “literal acting”, or gestures recreating the exact words being spoken (for example, the line, “I wrote her a cheque for three thousand dollars” is followed by the action of physically writing out a cheque), happening which further underlines this production’s seeming lack of sophistication. Joe is one dimensional and the nonchalance with which Landry portrays him with goes against all of the character’s potential to be a compelling perspective on the effects of PTSD. Laviolette as Carol is certainly the strongest of the three, though with the least amount of stage time, having a reasonably well developed character and clear intentions each time she enters the scene.
In sum, it is easy to be swayed by shows that pull at your emotional heartstrings especially when the material at hand relates to you as an audience member personally and so I am given to understand that this show has had a positive effect on people who have been affected, or know someone experiencing, PTSD. However, my job as a critic is to utilize my critical thinking faculties alongside my emotional ones and as such I cannot commend this show on its naiveté. Chauvin has stated that he spent two years working on Oceans Apart, but only 6 months researching. To me this is hardly enough time to really grasp the intricacies and complexities of such a disorder as PTSD (or any disorder really) in order to successfully portray it on stage. Yes, this is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed in our society, but this production is not the way of doing it. I would suggest a longer development period with more substantial research behind it before remounting this show in the future.