Lennox Theatre, April 30
Tiny tinfoil boats snake their way down stage to make a glittering Amazon River in Kate Gaul’s Siren Theatre Co production of Noelle Janaczewska’s Good with Maps. First aired five years ago, this 50-minute one-hander references the soft understatement and pith helmets of Victorian-era gripping yarns, and is almost such a thing, itself. While actor Jane Phegan’s voice rises and falls, variously hypnotic, immersive, funny and gently dramatic, composer Nate Edmondson casts us adrift on a hazy sea of sound.
An Amazon adventure, a father succumbing to Parkinson’s disease, literary erudition and snippets of history and autobiography are all tributaries flowing into the slow, wide, sweeping wonder of the play, the writing of which is as stuffed with gems as a rich person’s top drawer (with only a couple of self-conscious baubles). As clever as Janaczewska’s writing is, however, it’s so non-linear and unruffled dramatically that it must be thoroughly animated by its actor and director, and Phegan and Gaul make it quietly incandescent, like a gas ring turned down low.
“I wonder whether it’s parental disintegration that turns us into adults,” Janaczewska asks, and many would nod as she describes her father looking like his own x-ray; tells of nursing aids popping their heads in to see if he’s dead; paints a disturbing picture of a hospital limping, channel-surfing and wetting its way through the wee hours.
The man she watches fade away fostered her literary love in Goff’s Oak, England, where there was no public transport because there was nowhere to go. This love – especially ardent for Virginia Woolf and the Russians – was so fierce that she dumped a boyfriend for being brazenly uninterested in reading Moby Dick.
While upstage turquoise curtains billow and shimmer just enough to conjure dreams and spark imaginations, Gaul has Phegan create visible spaces and places in our heads, her performance always intimate and always truthful. She makes a challenging part seem easy: a spot of story-telling after dinner; a narrative that leaps about as if the wine has flowed as liberally as the Amazon does into the Atlantic.
And the title? That’s something else the protagonist inherited from her father; something about more than getting from A to B, however: an enticement to discover what’s out there.