Fringe review: Prophecy

Carmen Nieuwenhuis in Prophecy, Impossible Mongoose. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls,

Prophecy  (Stage 31, Strathcona Baptist Church)

“Ignorance can be bliss, but knowledge is not power,” Prophecy tells us in this vivid meditation on a violent male world seen through the eyes of women. They see destruction coming and know its consequences.

Last time out, Impossible Mongoose, an adventurous Edmonton indie tore into a zany, breathlessly high-speed five-generation chronicle of terrible behaviour in a dysfunctional family. In Jessy Ardern’s The Fall of the House of Atreus, the years of the Trojan War flew by in madcap minutes.

With Ardern’s witty and powerful new play, Impossible Mongoose returns to that war. In a powerhouse performance from newcomer Carmen Nieuwenhuis, we meet a succession of women whose tragedy is to see ahead in time and know too much. The poster child for this long-distance vision is Cassandra, the clever Trojan princess whose god-given gift of prophecy comes with a stinger: she will never be believed. 

In Corben Kushneryk’s production, Cassandra is reduced by the backlash from her peculiar talent — “was/ is/ will be… death”  — to re-purposing assorted stuff from a janitor’s closet to re-tell the story of destruction of her country and her family in an unending war. The rationale for this storytelling concept isn’t quite clear; a minor tweak could fix that, I think.

“This will be my father,” she says picking up the bucket that stands in for Priam. Her brother Hector gets to be a mop.

We meet Cassandra’s tart-tongued mother Hecuba, with her worldly edge of cynicism — again nailed by the resourceful Nieuwenhuis. She describes her son Paris — whose mad-pash for Menelaus’s glamorous but slutty wife Helen will ignite the Trojan War — a hat with feathers on it, “the human fascinator, beautiful but useless.”

We meet Andromache, the beleaguered foreign-born widow of Hecuba’s son Hector, “a queen with no king.” And we meet another woman with a tumultuous history of exploitation by the military men around her. “I practise getting smaller; eventually I will disappear,” says the concubine Briseis who, in Nieuwenhuis’s performance, does seem to be shrinking before our very eyes. .

The atmospheric lighting, from flashlights and footlights, has a kind of homespun ghostliness about it; it casts distorted large-scale shadows of a turbulent historical epic on the wall behind the women.   

“Your job is to tell the truth when no one is listening…. That’s what keeps you human.” The ending, which flings Prophecy into the immediate present, is a punch to the solar plexus. 

As seen at the Winnipeg Fringe.

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