2 min


Dangerous undercurrents

WRY EFFECTIVENESS. Credit: Kelly Clipperton

The lake, palpably evoked by designer Stephan Droege in The Water Crawlers, is polluted and threatening. Invisible eels and undercurrents and all too visible needles and rotting condoms are emblems of decay and danger.

But it’s also a magical lake that lures marathon swimmers into attempting heroic crossings – defeating most of them, yet translating even the defeated into mythic figures.

Billy Musgrave was one of the defeated – though 30 years ago, in his prime, he was twice Canadian athlete of the year and had his face on postage stamps and milk ads. In 1989 he still dreams of conquering the lake in a race and using the $20,000 prize money to pay back taxes on his seedy, dilapidated motel. His feisty wife, Alicia, once a champion swimmer herself, is his bulwark against cowardice and despair.

Their daughter, Marilyn, named after the legendary Marilyn Bell who successfully swam across Lake Ontario in the ’60s, learned to enact the role of her namesake as the inspirational “maid of Ontario,” bent on winning glory for Canada and God.

A semi-permanent resident of the motel, Martin, is a gay man mourning for his recently deceased partner who died of AIDS. Unlike the family trio, he is attempting to escape the past with a kind of quasi-Shakespearean gallows humour.

The characters are larger than ordinary life; their often portentously stylized monologues and dialogues rippling with significance.

The women, “crucified” to their swing set, oscillate between frustrated yearning and vehement hope, while offering saving grace to the men who are often cowards when it comes to grieving and living.

Catherine McNally captures the daughter’s undercutting counterpoints to Elizabeth Shepherd’s feisty power and elaborate fantastications. And Greg Kramer plays Martin as a fatalistic clown, jesting at real wounds with wry effectiveness.

Only David Fox (as Billy) is out of his element, his jaw-sagging musing and stiff-backed stillness reprising his overly-familiar mannerisms.

This is a play about the burden of mythologizing the all-too-human in the face of defeat and death. But it is, in its own peculiarly elliptical way, about the burdens of love. Geoff Kavanagh’s densely textured script is heavily emblematic and ironic, rather like Edward Albee at a peak of freighted symbolism or Judith Thompson cresting with baroque power. It carries us into deep waters that swirl and eddy with mordant currents yet lap rough shores of prose-poetry.

Concentrated and focussed, the play is directed with expressionistic force and lyrical tenderness by Dean Gabourie and played extraordinarily well by its cast (with one notable exception).

The Water Crawlers is for those who are unafraid to plunge into dark and discomforting waters.

The Water Crawlers.


Till Wed, Apr 5.

Buddies In Bad Times Theatre.

12 Alexander St.

(416) 975-8555.