By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Slack Tide (Stage 8, Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre)
In the mysterious first moments of Slack Tide, a man (the excellent Chris W. Cook) arrives on a rocky ocean beach clutching a bouquet of roses.
He is waiting, brooding; his gaze is inward. And as time passes — and it does, in this dark and unusual new drama by up-and-comer Bevin Dooley — his anxiety and the tension of the scene mount together.
A play about atonement unspools that way — as a long, slow burn that escalates gradually, agonizingly, in small, well-placed reveals in Wayne Paquette’s Blarney production.
Something terrible has happened — and terrible gets doled out very gradually and suspensefully in Slack Tide. Matty is just out of prison, we learn early, estranged for six long years from both his sister (Julia Guy) and their friend Mary (Merran Carr-Wiggin). And as he says, prison isn’t good for much, but it’s good for thinking.
Thinking (not talking) is what all three characters spend a lot of Slack Tide doing. They ponder their wounds and their words in a play of secrets that gets its force from being stingy with the verbal — and leaving space and room for the actors to communicate in other ways. All three are powerful; the performances are wary and watchful.
That kind of spare, elegant text and pacing, with its long silences and pauses and reaction shots, is highly unusual amongst young playwrights (and in the oft-overwritten Canadian repertoire for that matter). As its name suggests, Slack Tide moves in increments of horror, so slowly it doesn’t seem to move at all. The experience of that is tense and compelling. Questions about forgiveness And then — a rip tide? — it crashes in a horrifying melodramatic explosion of activity that seems, in truth, contrived for dramaturgical neatness.
After the absorbing mystery build of this promising, fearless piece, you’re beached by improbability. Before that, though, you’re drawn onto the strip of shore where time can stop and questions about forgiveness and love can be explored.