Though the sterile walls and forgettable furniture make a hospital hallway seem an unlikely place for any surreal, even magical, moments to happen, anyone who’s spend a nerve-wracking evening in those hallways knows that the mind can play some funny tricks thanks to a combination of stress, sadness, and lack of sleep.
In Jennifer Tremblay’s one-woman-show The Carousel, produced by Nightwood Theatre and on until this Sunday, we see the central figure alone in a hospital hallway, sitting, at first, outside the room where her mother lies dying. The Woman, played by Allegra Fulton, then finds herself tracing out moments from her family’s past, acting out characters ranging from her grandfather to her own small sons, as she attempts to build an understanding of her grandmother, her mother, and herself—and draw similarities between their shared histories and her future. It’s a very theatrical concept, emphasized by dreamlike projections on the set’s blank walls by designer Denyse Karn. An understanding of The Woman’s emotionally distressing situation, though, makes the situation painfully immediate. What else can one do in while in hospital limbo, waiting for an end, but carefully dissect how one got there, and where one is going?
The Carousel is a follow-up to Tremblay’s The List, produced by Nightwood Theatre in 2010 and featuring Fulton as the same nameless woman, but stands on its own as a piece of theatre. Fulton’s performance is a whirlwind—she flips from character to character, decade to decade in a second. She races through the years when needed, and sometimes also through the dialogue, but dramatically slows down for key moments in her family’s past—like a suspenseful runaway horse ride, or an impromptu song at her father’s local dive. Unfortunately, though, we never do get a full picture of The Woman, or of the cast of characters she briefly inhabits. Fulton is impressive, without question, but several of the script’s brief snapshots of Quebec working-class life are overpowered by her speed and the often verbose style of language. As a result, the final plot revelation doesn’t have its intended devastating shock (or maybe that’s because it’s rather predictable).
But The Carousel also marks the directorial debut of actress Megan Follows (The Penelopiad, Anne of Green Gables), and she’s certainly off to a good start. The marriage of design, performance, fantasy, and reality shows an eye for the right balance of emotion and clarity—and balance is, after all, key to a successful carousel ride.