The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > DAR­REN BARE­FOOT

By David James Brock. Di­rected by Chelsea Haber­lin. An ITSAZOO pro­duc­tion. At the Rus­sian Hall on Satur­day, May 12. Con­tin­ues until May 27

To see Wet, we de­scend from 2

an early-sum­mer evening in Strath­cona to the base­ment of the Rus­sian Hall. We turn a cor­ner and sud­denly we’re in a long, nar­row BAT—A big-ass tent—on a Cana­dian mil­i­tary base in Afghanistan.

You’re first struck by the smell of the ply­wood that forms the tent’s walls and floor. The sounds of the base— ve­hi­cles and men shout­ing—leak in from “out­side”. The au­di­ence sits in a sin­gle row of chairs on each side of the room and the ac­tion be­gins.

This is im­mer­sive the­atre—more im­mer­sive than any vir­tual-re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ence I’ve tried. There’s no stage be­cause ev­ery­thing is the stage.

Wet tells the story of Burns (Genevieve Flem­ing), a sec­ond lieu­tenant in the Cana­dian mil­i­tary. We first meet her as she calls home from a base in Afghanistan, teas­ing her young hus­band, Michael (Matthew Mac­don­ald-bain).

But this Skype call is just a pro­logue to the play’s main ac­tion, where we watch Michael care for a wheelchair-bound, trau­ma­tized Burns af­ter her re­turn to Canada.

Set de­signer Jenn Ste­wart has trans­mo­gri­fied the Rus­sian Hall base­ment into two finely de­tailed rooms. Af­ter the tent, we stum­ble down a dark cor­ri­dor that crashes with the sounds of war into a dank, low-ceilinged base­ment apart­ment. The nu­ances of the claus­tro­pho­bic de­sign, from the toos­mall loveseat to the tat­tered posters on the wall, tell us so much about this young mil­i­tary cou­ple’s in­creas­ingly des­per­ate cir­cum­stances.

We line the walls of this room, too. Here, our ex­pe­ri­ence of the show be­comes even more in­tense. Voices are raised, weapons are bran­dished, and there’s an at­tempted rape, all within arm’s reach of the au­di­ence.

It’s tough for the ac­tors to have the au­di­ence right on top of them but they han­dle the prox­im­ity with courage. Flem­ing, in par­tic­u­lar, was so vul­ner­a­ble at times that I had to look away.

Part of the show’s power is in the way it de­mands we be­come clear-eyed wit­nesses. How­ever, some of the ac­tion feels too big for the space. I won­der if di­rec­tor Chelsea Haber­lin could have di­alled back the clam­our.

Find­ing the right end­ing to a story is, for many writ­ers, the hard­est part. This is the case with Wet. David James Brock’s script loses some of its self-as­sur­ance in the fi­nal min­utes.

Still, there’s so much to like in Wet—it brims with both fragility and men­ace. At­ten­dees may need to steel them­selves for this R-rated ex­pe­ri­ence, but it’s a re­ward­ing one.

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