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August 6, 2012 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Review – Quiver

Written by Gina Vanessi, directed by Gavin Rutherford

Paul (Alex Grieg) is a sex-addicted, emotionally stunted and egotistical writer for an advertising company. Celeste (Gina Vanessi) is an unhinged, obsessive paranoid who works at a gym and reads Paul’s texts. It is a match made in hell, and in any other situation their continued dalliance with one another would be utterly implausible. But theatre is the medium that brings us plays like Closer, where laughably incompatible couples are forced together for the sole purpose of appeasing an audience bent on schadenfreude. It is something akin to the childhood practice of trying to make two insects fornicate by keeping them in a jar; you can almost hear the playwright squealing with sadistic pleasure.

In the case of Paul and Celeste, their relationship is put through the ringer when Petra (Jaya Robertson), one of Paul’s past dalliances-on-the-side, walks back into their lives by chance. Celeste takes the opportunity to further punish Paul for his past crimes, as well as exploiting Petra’s vulnerability to satisfy her own voyeuristic fetishes (when things begin to sound ridiculous, just remember: schadenfreude). Thus, an elaborate framing device unfolds: Celeste wants to set up Paul and Petra, and she wants to watch.

The primary joy to be had in a show of this kind comes from the complex psychological games the characters play with each other, hopefully bolstered by clever, cut-throat dialogue. There must be a palpable thrill in observing subtle shifts of power as each grapples to defeat each at their own game.

It is precisely this that prevents plays like Closer or Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love plunging down the precarious slope of banality. The kind of subtlety and intelligence of acting this requires is why the aforementioned plays attract powerhouse performers. At times, happily, Quiver just gets there. But mostly it is hampered by performances that err toward the obvious and a script that tries to do too much.

For this show to fly, the actress in the role of Celeste needs to construct a truly formidable character. When Paul agrees with her to take the two women back to his house (schadenfreude, schadenfreude …) we have to believe that puppetmaster Celeste has the charisma, charm, or sheer scariness to make her puppets do what she wants. Gina Vanessi plays her part with humour and relish, which is enjoyable to watch, but ultimately falls short of the precision and emotional subtlety her script demands. Indeed this can be said of all the actors; humour is handled well and elicited plenty of laughs, but ultimately the performances suffer from over-acting born of playing for effect rather than truth.

The arc of Quiver is underscored by seismic activity. This builds to an inevitable climax, predictable from the first hint of a tremor, and ultimately manifests in monologue-form as a clumsily presented metaphor for relationships. I was unconvinced. Celeste’s justification for getting back together with Paul is “life goes on,” which seems a somewhat reductivist mantra in regards to both relationships and earthquakes.

There is another metaphor too, but it only rears its head at the very end of the show. Again in monologue form, it tops the former in the ham-fisted-integration stakes. Relationships, it would appear, are a lot like meditating: you can achieve a “hot, burning, pre-orgasmic” state of zen, but must ultimately open your eyes to a cold, dull room. Zen, as a concept, is not referenced at all throughout the play, and yoga only once or twice. The monologue is delivered by Petra, who as a character is under-developed and benefits from an added dimension, but the theme is incongruous.

Quiver presents some decent relationship drama, and some very amusing moments, but ultimately it leans too heavily on its least developed features.

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