Skip to main content

A scene from The Watershed

Guntar Kravis.

4 out of 4 stars

Title
The Watershed
Written by
Annabel Soutar
Directed by
Chris Abraham
Actors
Kristen Thomson, Eric Peterson, Tanja Jacobs, Alex Ivanovici
Company
Porte Parole and Crow’s Theatre
Venue
Berkeley Street Theatre
City
Toronto
Year
2015
Runs Until
Sunday, July 19, 2015

It would be hard enough for any investigative journalist to chase a story about the closing of a major, federally funded freshwater research station in which the government refused to comment. But imagine chasing it while riding across the country in a Winnebago motorhome with your actor husband, two giddy prepubescent girls and an unruly dog.

That real-life situation, delightfully dramatized in Annabel Soutar's Panamania play The Watershed, brings chaotic comic levity to what is essentially a dead-serious work of documentary theatre: a show that sees Canada at a watershed moment in its pursuit of both economic prosperity and ecological sustainability.

Montreal playwright Soutar is the journalist in question – her chosen medium is theatre – and that Winnebago scenario grew out of her desire to involve the next generation in her assignment. Commissioned by Panamania, the Pan Am Games's arts and culture festival, to create a play about water as a natural resource, she enlisted her own daughters as her research assistants. Never mind that they weren't too sure what a "watershed" is, sometimes confused Stephen Harper with Rob Ford and would rather be watching Frozen than discussing tailings ponds. They learned a lot along the way. And we do, too.

Story continues below advertisement

Like Seeds, Soutar's previous documentary about genetically modified crops, The Watershed is a solid piece of reporting. But where that play sometimes overwhelmed us with facts and arguments, this one keeps our attention with splashes of satire, a steady stream of domestic comedy and a playful sprinkling of meta-theatrical jokes. And it once again taps into the considerable resources of director Chris Abraham and his creative team, who have crafted a fast-flowing, continually inventive production. (As in the case of Seeds, Abraham's Toronto-based Crow's Theatre and Soutar's Montreal company, Porte Parole, are the show's co-producers.)

The Watershed begins, appropriately enough, with Annabel (played by Kristen Thomson) and husband Alex Ivanovici (playing himself) using a home plumbing crisis to teach daughters Ella (Amelia Sargisson) and Beatrice (Ngozi Paul) about water loss. Soon the girls are both helping and hindering their mom as she looks into the shutting down of the Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario's Kenora District after its budget was slashed in 2012 by the feds.

Annabel finds a passionate defender of the ELA in young scientist Diane Orihel (also portrayed by Sargisson). But she can't get anyone in the government to talk. Trying to understand both sides of the situation, she finally turns to her conservative father (Eric Peterson), who obliges with a sympathetic take on Stephen Harper's economic motives.

Ultimately, Annabel decides she needs to see the bigger picture – notably, the water-polluting oil sands in northern Alberta – so she convinces her theatre board to triple her travel budget, pulls the kids out of school and heads west in that Winnebago. The bumpy road trip to Fort McMurray forms the backbone of the play's second act.

In the three years since we saw Seeds, Abraham has directed some outstanding Shakespeare productions at the Stratford Festival and it shows here. The Watershed is almost Shakespearean in length (close to three hours with an intermission) and sweeps us up in a hurly-burly staging with a protean cast of eight that feels like a cast of 18.

He also brings out the best in all concerned. Peterson is a joy, whether spoofing the histrionics of a Fox News anchor or quietly articulating the argument for capitalism as Annabel's father. Tanja Jacobs swings easily from that left-wing firebrand Maude Barlow to little, saucer-eyed Hazel, Abraham's daughter, who tags along on the cross-country trip. A smooth Bruce Dinsmore does wry turns as a Beatles-crooning Harper and a chocolate-voiced Jian Ghomeshi (appearing here pre-scandal, as the host of CBC Radio's Q). Tara Nicodemo is an elegant presence in various roles, including Guy Laliberté's partner Claudia Barilla of the One Drop Foundation.

Ivanovici as Ivanovici has one of the show's funniest interludes, trying to urinate in the bathroom of the moving Winnebago. As Ella and Beatrice, a charmingly rambunctious Sargisson and Paul make us forget they're adults playing little girls, while Paul also does a wicked impersonation of director Abraham, complete with fake beard. Soutar doesn't spare anyone in this play, least of all herself. Thomson's relatable Annabel can be over-earnest and cranky and, at one hilarious low point, ends up scrounging desperately for some discarded strips of bacon, only to be beaten to it by the family dog.

Story continues below advertisement

Julie Fox's set, dotted with bathroom fixtures, Kimberly Purtell's aquatic lighting and Thomas Ryder Payne's dripping-faucet sound design all accentuate the show's water theme. But this is not just a play about the source of life, but also about how we live today. In an election year, it asks us to resist our ideological impulses, start listening to one another and have some long, hard conversations about what kind of country we want our kids to inherit.

The Watershed continues to July 19 as part of the Panamania arts and culture festival (www.toronto2015.org/panamania).

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter