Elizabeth Kuti is among the newest generation of English playwrights currently making waves. Thanks to Cart/Horse Theatre, her 2013 play Fishskin Trousers is receiving its North American premiere. The play itself is not for all markets, combining as it does, real and fictional events with magic realism. Nonetheless, as a storyteller, Kuti does hold our interest.
The mandate of Cart/Horse is, in fact, storytelling, the simpler the better in terms of theatrical values. Kuti’s play links together three separate monologues from different time periods. Director Matthew Gorman has elected to anchor his cast in chairs, the designs of which are time-specific. Thus, the monologues are everything. They are all set in and around the town of Orford on the Suffolk Coast, in South-East England.
Mab (Arlin Dixon) is a servant at Orford Castle in 1173. Her monologue revolves around the strange tale of the Wild Man of Orford, a supposed merman captured by fishermen and held captive at the castle. Ben (Craig Pike) is an Australian radar scientist in 1973. He is in Orford to fix anomalies in the secret Cold War installations on the island of Orford Ness. He also romances a local girl. Mog (Julia Course) is a teacher who has become pregnant through an affair with a married man. Her time is 2003, and she has come back to Orford, her childhood home, looking for solace while struggling over a possible abortion. Both the Wildman tale and the secret radar installations are real events. A strong feature of Kuti’s writing is that she does manage to connect the dots between the three monologues in a satisfying manner.
All three actors give good performances. English and Australian accents may slide around a bit, but the actors, particularly Course, are strong. The point is, they are able to hold the stage with minimal movement, and the fact that the script cuts back and forth between the three gives variety and well as shape to the structure of the play. Jenna McCutchen’s eye-catching fishskin carpet and nautical motif add to the setting.
In the final analysis, Gorman has taken a risk in presenting a challenging play in a challenging manner. He also finds good actors, (Course and Pike come from the Shaw Festival). All of this makes Cart/Horse Theatre an important player in Toronto’s indie theatre scene.
(Fishskin Trousers by Elizabeth Kuti, directed by Matthew Gorman, Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, Nov. 20 to Dec. 7.)