Review: Factory/Crow's Theatre Eternal Hydra

continues to February 13, 2011

"These days, writing is a very small part of being an author."

Eternal Hydra is a play of ideas fleshed out by the foibles of its very human characters, crisscrossing through time, fact and fantasy to pose questions of morality and truth and a whole lot else. That it succeeds in this quite captivating production is due to brilliant writing and a strong cast that takes on a total of 11 roles between the four of them.

Just as a spare but striking set and cast of four flit back and forth, so does the story trip back and forth between the present, where scholar Vivian (Liisa Repo-Martell) brings a long lost manuscript she's unearthed to be published, and Paris of the 1930's, where its author(s) lived and drank prodigiously. It also slips between the "reality" of the present day publishing transactions and the various fictions represented on the page, from one author to another to another... Along the way it asks the questions about the nature of genius, and just how much writing an author is supposed to do these days. The tangled storyline mirrors the complexity of the issues. Aren't all artists simply rearranging what is already there? Dashes of smart humour pepper the scenes.

David Ferry does a nice turn as Gordius Carbuncle (aka...?) the Irish/Jewish writer with a glorious concept for the novel of the century. It will contain 100 chapters, each written from the voice of a completely different protagonist, and each representing the unheard voices of history. The search for unheard voices - along with a combination of self-hatred and an overweening desire for literary immortality - is what leads him to cross paths with young black American writer Selma Thomas. In the modern storyline, author Pauline Newberry, championing Selma's unrecognized oeuvre, locks horns with Vivian and her romanticized version of Gordius. Cara Ricketts, playing both Pauline and Selma along with a freed slave in post-Civil War New Orleans, is an able chameleon.

The production as a whole switches modes between past and present seamlessly and in a way that felt both noticeable and authentic. Liisa Repo-Martell has a real gift for accents, going from English to Scottish and then Louisiana. Her portrayal of Vivian Ezra really conveyed the passion and devotion of scholarship - even if those passions did go too far. Sam Malkin is publisher Randall Williams both Jr. and Sr., and boss/lover of the slave girl who is Selma's great grandmother, with a bit of a larger than life persona that suits the comedy. A multi-purpose set and striking lighting design by John Thompson do a lot to add depth to the performances, which include segments of narration and aside comments to the audience. It's a story within a story within a story, a classic mystery, but the whodunnit is actually a philosophical question.

Gordius grows on you. At first he's something of a caricature, presented in terms of the conceptions conjured up by Vivian and Pauline. He solidifies as a real person in segments of his diary. Eternal Hydra, the many-headed snake of Greek mythology, is a kind of metaphor for the very questions - and constantly mutating answers - that the play itself poses. What is morality when it comes to artistic creation? What is truly "original"? In this era of sampling and mashing up, it seems a particularly relevant question.

Last night's packed opening night audience included former GG Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul, author André Alexis and Philip Akin, whose own production of Ruined is currently on stage just east of downtown.

• Liisa Repo Martell, David Ferry and Cara Ricketts
• Anton Piatigorsky
• David Ferry and Liisa Repo Martell by Monica Esteves

Directed by Chris Abraham, with set and lighting design by John Thompson, costume design by Barbara Rowe, sound design by Richard Feren and stage management by Merissa Tordjman, featuring cast members David Ferry, Sam Malkin, Liisa Repo-Martell and Cara Ricketts.

The Details:
• Show times are Tuesday to Saturday, 8 p.m., and Sunday, 2 p.m. (exception Sunday preview, 7 p.m.).
• Tuesday to Thursday tickets are $28 ($23 for Students and Seniors); Friday, $35 ($30 for Students and Seniors); Saturday, $40 ($35 for Students and Seniors); and Sunday, advance tickets $28 ($23 for Students and Seniors) or Pay-What-You-Can tickets.
• RUSH tickets are subject to availability on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday performances.
• The box office opens at noon on Sunday and has a limited number of P-W-Y-C tickets, available at 1 p.m.
• The box office is open for in-person/phone sales Tuesday to Saturday, 1 to 8 p.m., and Sunday at 12 noon to 4 p.m.;
Online sales are available 24 hours a day.