The Monstrous Heart – Traverse Theatre

Somewhere in Canada, a blizzard is raging outside and Mag receives an unexpected visit from her estranged daughter, Beth. Animalistic and unpredictable, Beth storms her way back into her mother’s life, physically and metaphorically ripping apart any sense of normalcy that Mag had created. Well…as much normalcy as can be had by a reformed alcoholic assistant pharmacist, turned taxidermist, keeping a dead grizzly bear on her kitchen table.

The bear is phenomenal: life-sized and realistic, it is the centre-piece to an outstanding set. The detail of the set and costumes is admirable. They create an immersive world centring on the two characters, who are further isolated by the wind sound effects that crescendo to intensify certain moments. The bear is hugely effective until the writer’s choice to jump out of the naturalistic style for a moment and into a hallucinatory sequence featuring the bear seemingly talking to Mag, blood theatrically dripping from its jaws. The sequence is risky, bearing stark contrast to the honest, realistic style of the majority of the play. For me, it felt forced, not really adding much to the effectiveness nor message of the piece.

Charlene Boyd as Beth is larger than life. She dominates the stage with her crowing laughter, fiery anger and cruel words. Both characters do a fantastic job of evoking simultaneous hate and pity from the audience, begging the question: Are people born evil or do they become evil? This nature-nurture style debate is perhaps too overtly thrust into our faces, with Beth’s monologue describing her favourite book, Frankenstein. As easily guessed by the audience, Beth begins to allude to whether her mother is the monster for raising her without love. Although the writing here is unsurprising, it is a heartfelt performance.

Christine Entwistle plays
Mag’s transformation astutely; from weak and battered, she grows mean and coarse. It is gripping to watch. By the climax of the play, I had forgotten the weaker philosophical explorations and strange deviations from naturalism. It was stripped back once again to the brilliant design effects and strong acting to lead us to a frightfully chilling conclusion.

 

 

PHOTOS: Mihaela Bodlovic

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Aiyana Tandon

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