My introduction to this play was a moody outdoor production by the Guild Festival Theatre (my review) back in August. Would a second production, in less than three months, be a little tiresome? A reasonable fear, of course, but I was wholly intrigued to see varied interpretations almost back-to-back. To my delight, Wren Theatre’s staging of The Drowning Girls is distinct and persuasive.
With eerie nonchalance, three women emerge from clawfoot bathtubs. Dressed in white lace, eyes clouded over, their presence is immediately, intensely macabre. Gauzy fabric is draped around them—a decidedly feminine, cozy aesthetic that could almost be comforting, but absolutely isn’t. These women are stifled in this spectral place, not unlike their fraught living circumstances in the early twentieth century.
The script by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic is insightful and poetic. Based on a true account, this three-hander conjures Bessie, Margaret and Alice and has them commiserate with each other over their shared fate. Each was swindled and killed by the same opportunist, an Edwardian “man of independent means.” With references to the Titanic and tubs holding with real water, it is a very wet spectacle.
Through their interactions, we glimpse the social mores of the era creating ample pressure for them be married off. Desperate to conform to a model of ideal womanhood, they are primed to ignore the myriad red flags that were this man’s plumage. Knowing what awaits them, we cringe at their matrimonial delirium. The deliberate isolation from their families is particularly heartbreaking as we know the skepticism and distrust is rooted in legitimate concern.
This isn’t all doom and gloom though. The play is, for the most part, quite funny. Their solidarity is watertight and genuinely playful. They bond and reminisce and role play—drawing us into their individual stories and collective dynamic. Adrianna Prosser, Vikki Velenosi and Amanda D’Souza are a compelling trio, skillfully mining the lyrical text for all its horror and humour. Prosser’s accent and physical comedy during a trial murder re-enactment is a comic highlight.
Without overpowering the text, director Tatum Lee and technical supervisor Gillian MacLeod provide an abundance of atmospheric flourishes. Fog fills the space as coloured light catches on fabric draperies, giving the monochromatic environment some dimension. The soundscape is especially cinematic. I’m pretty sure I recognized some shrewdly placed strains of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score.
Effectively balancing the spooky, sad and whimsical; this is a vibrant, beautifully realized production.