Kristina Watt stars in this energetic one-woman show that defies easy classification.
This is a very difficult play to get inside and understand. Two aspects that are clear, if not easily understandable in themselves or in relation to one another is the self consciously bad tech, and the core of Virginia Woolf’s novel to which the play returns for its imagery and plot.
The tech in this show is clearly awful by design. There is a tripod projector screen that is dwarfed by the scale of the projections it’s supposed to hold. We see constant conflict between the actor and the booth in terms of the lighting and sound. The “costume-changes” and props used in the illustrations of the novel are comically gestural and amateurish. This is too bad to be an accident, but the reason for the choice is not made evident within the show.
Virginia Woolf’s The Waves figures prominently in the action on stage, which constitutes explanation of the novel and a re-enactment of some of its dilemmas. Watt puts on a series of exaggerated rubber noses and spectacles to change into the guise of a university professor, some sort educational public television host, a vehement Scotsman, and numerous other caricatures while attempting to share the brilliance of this mystifying book. The speed and unpredictability of these changes seems to reflect something in the title of the play, where we can never be sure quite where the particle Watt embodies will appear next, or with what spin and charge.
There is obviously an allusion to modern physics and the dual nature of matter as both a particle and wave in the title of the play and the title of the novel it builds itself around, as well as explicitly in the discussion of waves on the chalkboard that Watt provides us in her guise of the university lecturer. This seems to parallel on a symbolic level the conflict between the technician and the actor, both of whom are integral to the experience of putting on any production.
The audience is the observer of the experiment unfolding before us each time we step into a theatre, and the thing we are looking for changes the nature of the play itself. This show asks questions about the nature of theatre, and what it means to be “good theatre.” Can a show still be good even if many of the design choices are made to evoke the feeling of “bad” we are trained to recognize when we watch theatre? Can a play present conflict when it’s rising action appears like it might be accidental, and its climax isn’t seen? Can an actor deliver a powerful performance without us ever understanding the motivations of her characters?
In my case, the answer to these questions is yes. Kristina Watt was captivating even while I sat in slack-jawed incomprehension of what she was doing or why. James Richardson’s technical “assistance” was spectacularly, humorously bad.
Ultimately the question is about the observer, the audience. Are we looking for the show to wash over us and move us with its energy towards thinking deeply about how art affects us, or are we expecting it to lift us up in spite of our determination not to move and return us to earth in the same place fundamentally unchanged?
It’s taken me several hours of reflection to come to the speculative and very personal understanding of the work that I have. If you’re not interested in being confused, don’t go to this show. If you can embrace confusion as a device by which you can explore your own understanding of theatre, the theatrical event, or whatever it is that you care and think deeply about, you won’t be disappointed.