Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Regional Reviews

The Drowning Girls in a White-Water Dance
Duke City Repertory Theatre


There's a lot going on here. The Duke City Rep's The Drowning Girls is first a who-done-it, then a why-done-it, and then a how-done-it. Three murders, three wives, now three ghosts. The ghosts are trying to figure out how and why their mutual husband killed them—all by drowning, in three consecutive years, 1911, 1912 and 1913.

There is also quite a dance of language, as each of the three women begins to tell her story only to have the next women take over her sentence, and the third woman finish the thought. The staccato dialog builds in rhythm into a swirl of thoughts, feelings, and horror as the three women slowly figure out just how they came to be murdered at a time when they were so much in love with their husband.

In the middle of all this, there's water. Water in buckets, water in tubs, water in pitchers poured over the head. This is not the water of cleansing or purity. This is the water of abrupt shock, cold and surprising. This is the water of choked-off breath. Each character appears in her white wedding dress. Like the water, this isn't the white of purity; it's the white of blindness.

Above all, what's going in this play is the abuse of women and the mystery of how a grown adult can be conned into a relationship where she's choked off from her family and bilked of all her resources—financial and emotional—willingly. Then, of course, she's summarily drowned—without a struggle. It was shocking 100 years ago, and it's shocking now as it's played out in our headlines almost daily.

The play by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, and Daniela Vlaskalic is based on English serial killer George Joseph Smith and the murders by drowning of his three wives. He got away with each murder until a friend of the family of one of the victims noticed the similarity of news reports on the three deaths.

Katie Becker Colon (Bessie), Amelia Ampuero (Alice), and Lauren Myers (Margaret) play the three ghostly brides. They are letter perfect in the swirling dialog that jumps from one character to another. As the story is told in flashes, the actors inhabit the voices of family members, police, lawyers—even George Joseph himself. All this happens while the actors are moving continually around the stage and taking repeated douses of water.

It's a beautiful ballet. The one-hour one-act builds in energy and tension as the story unfolds in explicit detail. Director John Hardy does a wonderful job of keeping the action and the story building to a high pitch. The whole production is a masterly dance.

The three actors are in balance and harmony throughout the performance. No scene stealing, though there would be plenty of opportunity for a less generous performer. I would guess the pitch-perfect clock-precision flow of dialog and movement by the three actors is due in part to the magic of a well-working rep group where actors get to know and trust each other on a visceral level and the all-for-one-and-one-for-all code trumps all. Delightful play, excellent performance.

The Drowning Girls, produced by the Duke City Repertory Theatre, is playing at the Cell Theatre at 700 1st. St. NW. Performances run Thursdays through Sundays through October 19, 2014. Friday and Saturday performances open at 8:00 pm. Sunday performances are at 2:00 pm. Thursday tickets are $12 for everyone but kids whose tickets are $7. For the remaining performances, adults are $22; seniors, military and students are $14; children up to 17 are $7. For reservations, visit dukecityrep.com or call 797-7082.


Photo: courtesy of Duke City Repertory Theatre

--Rob Spiegel


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