This line succinctly captures the essence of the play in which it appears, the recent stage adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s “proto-feminist” classic The Edible Woman. Canadian playwright Dave Carley’s script works as a satire of marriage, gender roles and relationships in general, and while it does not push the politics of these issues to their full extent, the play’s many facets offer plenty of enjoyment.
Live Five’s latest show takes a look at the fast-paced and restrictive world of 1965. In a nameless urban centre, the main character Marian begins to feel her life slip away. She takes central focus as a reasonably solid fixture amid a world of spiralling insanity. She has her world shift on her when her “confirmed bachelor” boyfriend Peter suddenly proposes to her, at the same time as she finds herself attracted to eccentric stranger Duncan. Meanwhile, her flatmate Ainsley has concocted a plan to get pregnant by posing as a coy virgin and seducing lothario Len.
The play presents a mixture of flavours. The bland, starchy textures of hopeless domesticity balance out the arresting spice of illicit sexuality. More than anything it’s bittersweet. The sweetness comes from the great chemistry of the cast and the warm comedic touches throughout, while the bitterness comes from the way Marian loses her grip on life.
Rather than taking a starkly naturalistic take on the 1960s, The Edible Woman plays more to the stylized side. Part of the play comes in narrative form, with Marian breaking away to comment on herself in the third person. Saskatoon theatre veteran Josh Beaudry’s direction plays gingerly with the relation between Marian’s mind and her outside world, never quite answering the question of how the insanity of one feeds into the insanity of the other.
The set design, by current University of Saskatchewan design student Jenna Maren, is simple and fluid. As Marian sluggishly hauls furniture on and off stage, far from breaking character, it emphasises the drudgery of her existence. Maren works within the technical limitations of the Refinery by having a few set pieces constantly moving on and off, undergoing subtle personality changes overtop a banal urban landscape. The only problem is that the one permanent fixture of the set is a shelf upstage centre that does not interact with characters directly but continually draws attention.
The cast is entirely composed of U of S drama department alumni. Lauren Holfeuer commands the stage as Marian. She is required to play the grounded and logical character among the other eccentric personalities onstage, but also to dissociate from herself. She begins to lose her own freedom of choice and begins to empathize with food to the point where she can’t eat, and Holfeuer plays this mental break with subtle propriety, not losing her force of personality.
The supporting cast works together to add a variety of comedic touches. Josh Ramsden plays the young “man’s man” fiancé Peter: work-centred, self-involved, and emotionally detached. He deftly balances the roles of the smooth professional and emotionally immature man-child, as well as putting forth some very bold physical comedy.
Cassidy Thompson has tremendous stage presence as Ainsley’s typical blunt, man-eating self, and particularly clever comedic timing when she’s playing chaste. Grahame Kent uses his insidious charm to play Len, the predatory urbane sophisticate, while he also has a talent for flying into rages. Kristen Holfeuer plays three supporting roles: she has a hilarious, almost slapstick, turn as desperate-for-love “office virgin” Lucy, but her shrieking “Wicked Witch of the West” landlady and drag performance as college stoner Trevor grate on the viewer very quickly.
Finally, there is Chris Hapke, in a lighthearted departure from his role in East of Berlin, who plays nice guy Duncan with some very odd habits. He has excellent chemistry with Holfeuer in their unconventional affair, and he charms the audience with his handsome, slightly insane but still strangely disarming persona.
Even though The Edible Woman takes a view of relationships as either being normal and suffocating or unusual to the point where one is not sure if they are relationships at all, its pervasive humour prevents it from being a pessimistic play. It could be more pointed in its satire of gender roles, but it ultimately doesn’t need to be. The ingredients work together to form something that is satisfying and leaves you with a good taste in your mouth.
[box type=”info”]The Edible Woman plays at the Refinery (609 Dufferin Ave.) March 22-25, at 8 p.m. Tickets available at the Refinery box office.[/box]