Girl in the Goldfish Bowl
Girl in the Goldfish Bowl is the latest in a series of Canadian plays to receive its U.S. premiere at MetroStage in Alexandria, Va. Playwright Morris Panych won the Governor General's Award for Drama, Canada's highest literary award, in 2004 for this charming and slightly disturbing fable about growing up under stress.
The production is anchored by a luminous performance by adult actor Susan Lynskey as the 10-year-old heroine, and powered by a fascinatingly layered performance by Michael Russotto that withholds as much information as it reveals.
Director Gregg Henry demonstrates sensitivity in his dealings with both the characters and the actors. He maintains a light touch as the action shifts seamlessly from (a sort of) domestic realism to the fantasies of young Iris, who lives with her mismatched parents in a small seaside town in western Canada. The time is October of 1962, as President Kennedy faces down the Soviets over nuclear missiles in Cuba, and Iris' beloved goldfish, Amahl, dies. In her precocious way, Iris posits a connection between the two events.
Lynskey captivates from her first appearance: wearing diver's goggles, "swimming" along the back of a sofa. "These are the last few days of my childhood," Iris tells the audience. "My mother says the end of childhood is the moment you stop being happy and start remembering when you were happy."
Considering the world Panych has created for Iris, it's not surprising that she seeks escape by planning how she will become a member of the British royal family, or tries to balance her interest in Buddhism against the edicts of the Catholic school she attends. Iris' mother, Sylvia (Kathleen Coons), is restless and feels trapped in her marriage to Owen (Bobby Smith), who has withdrawn into depression and an obsessive interest in geometric principles. If the angles are right, he thinks, maybe Sylvia will love him.
When Iris brings home Mr. Lawrence (Russotto), whom she has met on the beach, she disrupts the fragile balance of the family and its blowsy boarder, Miss Rose (Susan Ross). With his deadened, becalmed voice, and his inability to remember or share anything about himself, Lawrence becomes the perfect blank slate for the others' dreams and neuroses.
The entire design team has worked hard and succeeds in visualizing Iris' internal world. Nicholas Vaughan's set blends the mundane living room furniture with several surprises, which only reveal themselves through John Burkland's lighting and William Burns' sound design. Deb Sivigny has created dead-on costumes for the characters, specifically Iris' gray jumper and baggy tights (not quite a school uniform, but close), and Miss Rose's smocks and overly ornamented dresses.