Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tell Me a Story: Leah Jane Esau's WATERFRONT: THE BLESSING

Waterfront: The Blessing directed by Amanda Lockitch and written by Leah Jane Esau was like that first bite of dry toast after a long illness--uncomplicated in the best way possible, it was a mouthful of something solid and satisfying: plain, good storytelling.

Part of the SummerWorks Theatre Festival in Toronto,
Waterfront is a production of Les Nouvelles Theatre, a grassroots theatre company founded by Esau and comprised of a group of talented artists in various fields (set and costume design, dramaturgy, lighting, and of course, acting). Written by Esau under the dramaturgy of Brian Drader at the National Theatre School of Canada and further developed in conjunction with Lockitch in early 2011, the play earned the opportunity to run at SummerWorks--a juried festival that features the glitterati of Canada's theatre world.

Trailer by Leah Jane Esau

The story presses at the pulse of family relationships--the messy, bristling undertones of repressed feelings between fathers and sons, and particularly between brothers. When his father dies, Jeremy arrives from the bustling gleam of Toronto to join his brother Ed in their childhood home, a waterfront property up north, to sort through their father's belongings. Ed's penchant for telling stories and Jeremy's resistance to his brother's hyperbolic ruminations unravels a lifetime of memories; truth becomes duplicitous and stories gain new, sometimes unwanted meaning.

William MacDonald as Ed in Waterfront: The Blessing (Photo Credit: Leah Jane Esau)

The set, designed by Nancy Perrin, has a lush quality, the gift of gentle depth. It achieves the physical sense of a home that's been lived in--dusty, cluttered, and worn through--while evoking the psychological sense of a home that has settled in upon itself, sinking under the weight of a lifetime of disappointment. Very easily, the set could have turned into a visit to the thrift store, vintage furniture crammed haphazardly onto a stage--but this set harmonizes with every other element in the play--absorbing the movements of the characters while reflecting their psychological states. The lighting (by Aaron Kelly) melds all these elements together, signaling emotional shifts and shifting the story from one reveal to the next.

The movement towards these reveals is expertly dramatized--the story layering one truth upon another, unearthing the complexity and dual nature of truth, but also connecting with the audience at a basic human level. The push and pull between Ed and Jeremy (brilliantly played by William MacDonald and Robert Fulton) mirrors the issues rumbling beneath the surface of most family relationships--the struggle to be understood, to be noticed, to be valued by the people we're supposed to love the most. And so, as the tension builds and leads from one revelation to another, the desire to experience emotional release is shared by the audience and that essential connection between stage and spectator is achieved.

Waterfront: The Blessing is a testament to the power and value of story, but also the deeper, more insidious nature of truth, and our perceptions of it. This relationship, the way story and truth go hand in hand, questions truth as that pristine, unrivaled beacon of clarity that we depend on as a foundational guide. It scratches at the pliable nature of truth and questions the value we place on that comfortable but stark vision of the world as black and white, right and wrong. Waterfront does what art should: It makes us take a second glance at what we know and how we live.

Learn more about Les Nouvelles Theatre and the production of Waterfront : The Blessing here.