Bone in her Teeth

Dates and Venue 22 May – 1 June 2008 @ 8pm | Russian Hall

Director Steven Hill Dramaturgist Heidi Taylor Lighting designer Stephan Bircher Set designer Molly March Costume designer Catherine Hahn Sound designer Jeremy Waller Music Veda Hille

Reviewer John Jane

It all seemed promising enough, sitting on the hard wooden benches in East Vancouver’s Russian Hall a few minutes before curtain time, listening to the recorded strains of Russian-American singer-songwriter Regina Spektor wafting through the theatre’s sound system. After all, what could go wrong with a shipwreck tale that is almost as notorious as the misadventure of the Bounty?

Heidi Taylor’s dramaturgy is plainly inspired by a famous painting by Théodore Géricault that depicts the last few desperate survivors of the French frigate Medusa which gained notoriety when it struck the Bank of Arguin off the coast of Mauritania in the early 19th century.

The Leaky Heaven production’s odd title, Bone in her Teeth is actually an old sea-faring term that describes a ship traveling fast enough to raise a white wake at her bow.

The ship’s master, a Hugues de Chaumareys, was more a politician than a career sailor and cared nothing of the tradition that called for the captain to go down with his ship. In his determination to save his own skin he abandoned about 150 passengers on a makeshift raft.

So, where does the comedy come in? Peter Anderson, Sasa Brown, Billy Marchenski, and Tanya Podlozniuk assume the roles of all 150 survivors displaying all the human foibles and deplorable table manners you would expect of a multifarious crew in a hopeless situation.

Edmontonian Tanya Podlozniuk as the feisty Zvetlana arguably gives the wildest performance. Sasa Brown has the tough job of making some of the lamest scenes work (I personally found the “eating the baby” scene more offensive than funny). Peter Anderson and Billy Marchenski are at their best when working off each as rivals for leadership of the castaways. Jordan Bodiguel is obliquely transparent in diverse peripheral roles.

The problem with Bone in her Teeth is not so much with the performances as it is with the direction. Peter Anderson’s character is given the responsibility of providing the narration, but who is listening? His voice is hardly more than a hurried murmur delivered amidst an onslaught of chaotic activity.

If there is one aspect of the production that stands out, it’s Catherine Hahn’s ingenious layered costumes that visually deteriorate through each scene depicting the castaways’ 13-day strife.

Molly March’s economy in props shows what can be accomplished with minimalist set design. The raft itself consists simply of a wooden stage pallet mounted onto a industrial size tire innertube on a sea of a single sheet of cellophane.

Chris Alscher’s playing of Veda Hille’s original music goes someway in taking the audience to the treacherous West African coast.

I’m sure I’ll enjoy future Leaky Heaven productions just so long as they leave Mutiny on the Bounty well alone.

© 2008 John Jane