A woman creeps her way onto the stage, holding a tattered book in her hands. The pages are so well-loved that the book is falling apart. She extends it to her audience and her mouth curves into words that might explain the book. But how can you put into words something as nuanced as our reaction to a piece of great literature?
Particle, co-created by Kristina Watt and Martha Ross, is a rumination on inspiration itself. This year, audiences have a chance to capture the World Premiere of this production at the undercurrents theatre festival.
At the centre of the play is Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves, but where you might expect a straight-forward adaptation, 100 Watt Productions sets its sites on the impossibility of wholly capturing the impact of art. Yet, through the lens of this cleverly conceptualized, metatheatrical production, Particle succeeds in inviting the audience to experience a delicate moment of shared understanding.
The stage layout features a prominent projector screen to its right where images of rolling waves are projected—a nod to the book that is at the heart of this production. The play features some basic set pieces, for example, a desk with a small bell and some clutter directly center, or a coat rack that stands at stage left. It’s all intentionally vague; the set is simply a play-ground for the characters. And these characters aren’t what they seem.
Actress Kristina Watt uses costumes (including exaggerated noses, lab coats, glasses and more) to take on various characters, and yet, these characters are heavily symbolic in nature. They are exaggerated and far from realistic—they are characters that Watt wears like a coat as she tries to home-in on the meaning behind Woolf’s enigmatic novel. Underneath the characters is another nameless, tenuous character that is just as present on stage, finding moments of silence to simply stare back at the audience. There’s a complex balance between what’s real and what’s not that Particle manages to capture, a credit to director Martha Ross.
At one point, Watt wears a long nose, scraggly black beard and dons a Scottish accent. This character speaks about the experience of being moved by Woolf’s novel, and leans into a passionate, emotional experience of the novel with ease. Just then, a (deliberately) misplaced sound cue, via “AV Guy” James Richardson, fills the auditorium with an emotive, too-loud, bagpipe melody, as if to cue this character into a soft, emotional moment. But the character knows what the AV Guy is up to and rejects the offering. The playful relationship between what’s happening on stage and the heavy-handed tech cues—which are openly referenced throughout the script—lead the audience into a Pirandello-esque, absurd stage-world. It is pure fun, and a fitting way to pay tribute to the complex impact of a piece of literature.
While the characters orbit around the novel’s “meaning”, the play manages to communicate some really powerful, shared anxieties of being human. Through its intricate balance of characterization, disruptive tech cues, and humour, an elusive “meaning” seems to spring to life.
At the beginning of the play, Watt’s character talks about “casting a rope out to the audience” and there is no doubt that Particle accomplished as much.
Playing until February 20 at undercurrents (produced by Ottawa Fringe).
100 Watt Productions Created by Kristina Watt and Martha Ross Performed by Kristina Watt Directed by Martha Ross Ottawa/Toronto, Canada