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April 15, 2002

Movie Reviews
by Alan Charlton

Arts Club not afraid of trying new works

The role of the Arts Club in the local theatre scene is inestimable. Its productions this season, including the superb ELIZABETH REX and MY FAIR LADY, amply illustrate its part in bringing to audiences a range of theatrical experiences which are both dramatically satisfying and well produced.

In keeping with its determination to offer a complete and stimulating range of drama, the Arts Club also includes in its programs new works, the latest of which is GIRL IN THE GOLDFISH BOWL by Morris Panych.

In GIRL IN THE GOLDFISH BOWL, which takes place in 1962 in a run-down house in a fish-canning community which clearly takes its inspiration from Steveston, we are introduced to the ultimate dysfunctional family. Sylvia, a woman whose fiance was killed in World War II, has married another war veteran, Owen, a man who accidentally shot himself in the foot and who has done no work at all.

Central to the play is their daughter Iris, a precocious 10-year old who attends a Catholic school and is determined to find out all she can about the world while she tries out her new found vocabulary of multi syllabic words for the sheer pleasure of using them. There are also Rose, a boarder, and Lawrence, a mysterious stranger whom Iris discovers washed up on the beach.

The characters have one thing in common: they are attempting to make sense of a world which constantly defies understanding. Owen draws geometric designs, is intrigued with a world in which parallel lines ultimately meet, and yearns to go to Paris so that he can stand at the Place d’Etoile and experience the ultimate in applied geometry.

Sylvia wishes to escape her meaningless existence. Lawrence desperately tries to find out who he is and what his role is among these people. Rose seeks refuge in alcohol and sexual encounters with men she meets at the local Legion. Iris observes it all and tries to understand the world which seems filled with uncertainty: the inadequacy of her own family, the Cuban missile crisis and the Cold War, and Vatican II and the Church in transition.

If all of this seems decidedly daunting, it is also necessary to realize that Panych has dressed the whole play with humourous and witty dialogue, so that the chaotic world which is presented is delightfully entertaining and richly comic.

Iris, the inquisitive child on the brink of adolescence, provides much of the entertainment as she interacts with the bizarre world in which she finds herself. As played by Leslie Jones, she is a wonderfully joyous creation, endearing and yet challenging as she questions everything.

The rest of the cast acquit themselves well, especially Zachary Ansley as the anguished Lawrence. Jennifer Clement as Sylvia has some touching moments as she comes to terms with the hollowness of a meaningless marriage.

Tom Scholte as the neurotic Owen stumbles literally and metaphorically through a world which cannot be reduced to two dimensional sense. Only Meredith Bain Woodward as Rose tends to overstate a part which is perhaps too realistically conceived to fit in a world which is clearly fantastic.

Of course, all of this does not mean that one agrees with Panych’s thesis, which is ultimately pessimistic in its statement that there is no meaning to be found in existence; that, despite all our efforts to find meaning, we are ultimately forced to face the fact that nothing can make sense of a random world in which everything, from birth to death, is accidental.

However, it is one of the functions of art to challenge us, to ask us to reflect on our own lives and belief systems. GIRL IN THE GOLDFISH BOWL does this and does it in a refreshing manner.

In a play which is mercifully devoid of objectionable language and which deals with adult themes without sensation and crudity, Panych has shared a vision of the world which asks the audience to think about what it believes.

The Arts Club production of the play is admirable. Ken MacDonald’s finely conceived set and the production values of the rest of the company plunge us into a world which is at once symbolic, and yet, at the same time, a reflection of reality which many find difficulty dealing with and, sadly, many find devoid of meaning.

Once again, the Arts Club, in this, the final production of its winter season at Granville Island, has demonstrated its determination to offer a program which is wide in its appeal. It is willing to take risks with new works which are both bold and challenging. 

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