Review: Girl in the Goldfish Bowl (UC Follies)

UC Follies brings forth an interesting attitude toward life and toward character at Toronto’s Glen Morris Studio Theatre

It’s pretty hard to screw up a play like Morris Panych‘s Girl in the Goldfish Bowl, which wrapped up a short run with UC Follies last week.

The GG’d script of Panych is one of those rare absurdist comedies that shares an aesthetic kinship with films like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – especially in its ability to render the endless defeat of every day life with humour, and with that tireless, subtle arrogance that keeps us all moving forward.

On paper, what happens in Girl in the Goldfish Bowl isn’t anything spectacular, and has probably happened to you: your parents unhappily teeter toward divorce, you – a child – are bored and imaginative, and an unusual visitor nobody really likes or understands stops by to shake things up for a few, beautiful moments, before leaving everything just as it was.

Iris (Megan Miles), the play’s wildly imaginative protagonist, comes under fire in the emotionally fraught household she shares with her disenchanted parents and a lascivious boarder (Monica Tedman).

In stumbles the very confused Mr. Lawrence (given a brilliant, understated rendering by William Wong) whom Iris believes to be her reincarnated goldfish, but who is more likely an escaped mental patient.

No artist carries out his craft perfectly, and the UC Follies staging is not without its faults. Most are forgivable, but there was a tendency to mumble punchlines as rapidly as possible, as if speed could somehow one-up Paynch’s wit. More often it made a botch of it, and sometimes made lines unintelligible altogether.

What’s redeeming about the play is its attitude toward life and toward character. There is an interplay between childish daydreaming and hard-nosed reality in Girl in the Goldfish Bowl that often hands the sagest lines to its most youthful/drunk/delirious characters.

If any member of the cast captures this contradictory dynamic, it’s Monica Tedman in her portrayal of Rose, an unscrupulous boarder with the hots for Iris’s dad, Owen. To see her twitch between power and vulnerability, fearsomeness and drunken stupor, is to understand the type of human contradiction Paynch’s script so wryly brings to light.

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