What’s the common denominator between the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and a mother seeking to abandon her family? The death of a goldfish. At least, this is what the precocious Iris tries to convince us of in Tuesday Night Café’s (TNC) production of Girl in the Goldfish Bowl.
With hilarious dialogue, authentic performances, and poignant direction, Girl in the Goldfish Bowl achieves memorable status among productions put on by the performing arts group.
The play, written by Canadian playwright Morris Panych, is narrated by Iris (Jaimie Coplan, U0 Arts), a highly intelligent and talkative 10-year-old. She introduces us to her quirk-filled and complex household during a point of palpable tension caused by a crisis in her parents’ marriage. To make matters even more complicated, Iris takes in an unexpected stranger by the name of Mr. Lawrence (Skyler Bohnert, U1 Arts) when she finds him on the shore, as she firmly believes he is the reincarnation of her beloved goldfish. The show’s comical nature hides deeper themes of both adolescent helplessness and domestic dissatisfaction in an unassuming manner.
Making such an absurdist plot compelling presents a significant challenge. But director Olivia Marotta (U2 Arts & Science) and the production team tackle it with ambition. The whole play develops in one room, changing environments by using lighting and sound when needed. It’s worth remarking that this is Marotta’s directorial debut. After pitching the show, her sheer passion for the project brought her to the director’s chair.
Upon first sight, the logical star and backbone of the show is Iris. Coplan delivers each of her lines with a strangely endearing bluntness, which, combined with impeccable comedic timing, keeps the audience captivated. Iris is perhaps the most coherently written character, which certainly helps to support Coplan’s delightful performance. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Marotta explained just what made Iris, and Coplan’s performance, so exceptional.
“I knew whoever was going to play Iris needed to understand her sense of humour,” Marotta said. “[She needed to be] someone who truly believed in each of the lines and didn’t just think like ‘oh, this is just some crazy kid.’”
The rest of the cast’s quirks make the story that much richer. Iris’ parents, Owen (Hugh Kelly, U0 Science) and Sylvia (Ellie Mota, U1 Arts), might start the show as introspective caricatures of quirky parents, but later on, start to unveil both their genuine personalities and some deeply rooted problems intrinsic to a 12-year, one-sided marriage. Their unforeseen guest, Mr. Lawrence, personifies confusion in the tale, as both his origin and purpose remain a mystery throughout. Bohnert’s portrayal of Lawrence both charms and entertains the audience. As for Miss Rose (Molly Frost, U1 Psychology), Iris’ godmother, her dialogue doesn’t reflect much of her personality besides her flirty and alcoholic tendencies. Yet, Frost easily distracts the audience from her character’s lack of substance through her mesmerizing performance.
The production includes elements of magical realism, with the set design serving as a particular standout. Set designer Arwen Lawless (U1 Arts) creates a beautiful and immersive world, cementing the idea that we all are in a goldfish bowl together. She painted a large ocean window that supports the layout of TNC’s theatrical space—where both audience and actors stand on one shared level—to flesh out this innovative design concept.
As soon as audiences step into the room, they are welcomed by a retro atmosphere, reinforced by multiple vintage artifacts and an—intentionally or not—cozy smell, that transports them directly into the family’s home. They transform from audience members to guests, entertained by the movement of a dysfunctional household, whose story lingers long after the show.
Girl in the Goldfish Bowl ran from Tuesday, Jan. 24 to Friday, Jan. 27 at Morrice Hall.