There is a moment near the end of the first act of Maureen Hunter’s play Wild Mouth when Oliver Becker, playing the tortured Ukrainian WWI vet Bohdan, grabs Sarah Orenstein as proto-feminist anti-war Englishwoman Anna (pictured, left), douses her in pig’s blood, and then rubs the animal’s heart all over her face and body. It’s a shocking and highly provocative moment, and seems to foreshadow a very dark second act. But that’s not quite what we get. The play, very capably directed by R.H. Thomson, has some fascinating scenes as well as something genuinely profound to say about humanity’s compulsion to war. But the second act seems somehow weak in its conviction, flirting with a darkness that is the logical conclusion of the events preceding it, and then backing away from it. You begin to think we’re heading into Miss Julie territory, but we instead wind up in a typical rural Canadian drama.
Still, there’s lots of good stuff here, including Becker’s powerful and at times chilling performance as Bohdan. Orenstein does admirable work with the ahead-of-her-time Anna, making her a captivating and sympathetic heroine. And the always-watchable David Fox makes the most of a small role as aging farmhand Aloysius. Yannik Larivée’s set is gorgeous and well-utilized by the show. But the show does have one trivial and yet hard-to-ignore annoyance: the dinner scenes. In this day and age, do we really need to see a family sit down to three separate dinners with real(!) mashed potatoes and real(!) bread? The attempt at Naturalism is always spoiled because no one ever writes dinner scenes that are as long as an actual dinner. It’s downright distracting to see a character asking when the pies for dessert will be ready while he’s in the middle of carrying the dinner table off stage to prepare for the next scene.
Wild Mouth plays at Tarragon Theatre until February 10.