The Flood Thereafter is a fairytale, but probably not one you would tell a child before bedtime.
A small fishing town on the Lower Saint-Lawrence was placed under a curse by a mermaid 20 years ago. The fish have long since gone, and so have most of the women. Now, all the men can do is drink beer and weep as the mermaid’s daughter, June, strips at the local bar. It’s a town where everyone is trapped, and the realism of the setting is wrapped tightly in myth.
The show, in its English world premiere, was translated from rising QuÃ©bÃ©cois playwright Sarah Berthiaume’s Le DÃ©luge AprÃ¨s. The script is tricky; it jumps from realistic, harsh fisherman’s language to mystical, poetic storytelling. However, translator Nadine Desrochers’ adaptation manages to keep the spirit of the myth without getting too melodramatic.
Director and Concordia graduate Emma Tibaldo brings a melancholy vibe to a story that raises questions about the line between sexuality and objectification. In an attempt to desexualize June, she is never actually shown dancing while naked, but remains static.
June, played with beautiful complexity by Amelia Sargisson, does not know who her father is and is lost because of this.
“She’s a stripper who strips without stripping for a man,” said Tibaldo in a talk after the show, explaining her fascination with June. The act of stripping is instead a desperate cry for help. When truck driver Denis comes to town, she finally breaks free from her prison.
The scenes are held together by Felicia Shulman, who plays Penelope, one of the few women who stayed in the village after the fish disappeared. While the audience walks in, she is already on the stage, crying and singing quietly to herself as she plays with the scenery. Throughout most of the play, she remains on stage, spinning her loom as though she is weaving the tale for us.
The minimalistic set seems fitting for the broken-down village. Metal bars are twisted into shapes vaguely representing different buildings in the village. The effect is that of a gutted carcass or the remains of a shipwreck.
The main props used are thousands of metres of unspooled video tape standing in for kelp, human hair, and more. According to Tibaldo, each strand tells a story, putting an emphasis on how the characters are stuck in the past. The poetic script is punctuated by sounds made using the strands of film, which often functions beautifully, but sometimes smothers speech while the actors are talking.
StÃ©phane Blanchette is especially compelling as Homer, Penelope’s husband. He is the man who fished the mermaid out of the river and brought the curse upon the village, and then lost his ability to fish due to a boating accident.
It’s not for nothing that his wife is named Penelope. The story of The Flood Thereafter draws influence from the ancient greek epic The Odyssey, by the poet Homer. In the original tale, Penelope waits for her husband to come home from war. In The Flood Thereafter, this Penelope is also waiting for her husband to come back to her instead of drinking and crying at the strip joint.
Production company Talisman Theatre specializes in bringing QuÃ©bÃ©cois theatre to the anglophone stage. The show is more risquÃ© than most English productions, and definitely not for those shocked by nudity, both male and female. However, the nudity is never gratuitous and unnecessary; it emphasizes the themes of the mystical show, which is well worth a look.
The Flood Thereafter will be playing at the ThÃ©’tre La Chapelle, 3700 St-Dominique St. until Oct. 23. Tickets are $24.50 for students. For more information, check out lachapelle.org.