This is not a finished review because I was off to a theatre conference in Trois Rivières but this is a play that deserves a comment. Oil and Water is an important narrative that brings much to Canadian contemporary history but the play and especially the staging of the performance are terrible disappointments. How can one find a parallel between the oppression of miners in Newfoundland the poverty created by the end of the fishing industry, with racism in the United States?.
There is no earthly way one can make any kind of serious comparison. I find that in itself a source of real embarrassment for Canadian scholarship. Certain actors were not up to the demands of the roles and that kept the performance sliding between various levels of professionalism and unprofessionalism- except for the scenes when the women were treating the near drowned sailor, a trio of actors which worked beautifully but that came at the end. Too bad,.
There were some interesting lighting effects, especially when the figures in the background froze against the blue sky in the second part of the show and the contructivist sextant makes an impressive scenic presence that adapted itself to multiple moments of the play. Nevertheless one felt most of the way through that the director was trying out various forms of Brechtian Verfremdung’s techniques that were not put into play in the most effective way. All the stage elements came under that category- the music, the way the actors ambulated around the stage, the background movements, the way the scenes cross cut into each other and rolled into each other., the episodic nature of the sketches which should have worked in a more dialectially organized fashion. The contrast between the various historical times and the social problems that created parallels in different geographic spaces and the specific organization of history. All very commendable but as a theatre production they did not work at all here because the techniques were not mastered by the director. They just created confusion and clutter and Brechtian stagings are precise, clear and anything but confused. !! I am sorry to say that because the story is an important one.
Alvina Ruprecht, Ottawa, May 22, 2014