Ever feel like you can’t quite get to the core of existence, your purpose? Well Jessa (Andrée Rainville), at the centre of Albumen, shares this disorientating pre-occupation. Unable to define meaning to her life or actions she’s abandoned a promising, assured, artistic career in exchange for a drab, grey data-entry existence.
“Rainville, MacDonald and Rose are magnetic.”
Having seemingly expunged her art work she models for former teacher, photographer, Danielle (Margo MacDonald) who wins acclaim and success with Jessa as her subject. Where Danielle’s existence is rich in drive, determination and self-knowledge, Jessa’s in contrast exudes bleak emptiness.
In pursuit of irrefutable purpose, Jessa donates blood on a rigorous 56-day cycle (“They need me. Who else needs me?”) and develops a relationship with Lucas (Mitchel Rose). His passionate pursuit and continued infatuation is juxtaposed against Jessa’s lethargic withdrawal.
On a simple stage, framed by an empty moat from which the three performers enter and exit scenes, conversations float and repeat beneath a suspended red dot—while an improvised easel-like climbing frame with red silk provides a space for flow and grace as Jessa and Lucas climb, recline and spin during their performances and Danielle stalks the stage. All three are pure pleasure to watch, each in their own right as their characters unfold and as they interact, reflecting and building on one another’s energy.
Is Jessa victimized, her vitality syphoned, by the artistic ambitions of Danielle, the demands of the blood supply system, and Lucas’s clear neediness? Or is this undiagnosed depression? An obsession with roadkill and a breakdown at work push the action forward, but reveal little more in our understanding of Jessa or the narrative.
Strong performances from Rainville, MacDonald and Rose are magnetic but they are unfortunately let down by a repetitive narrative that becomes increasingly sophomoric as it sidesteps focusing on mental illness head-on. Mishka Lavigne is a talented playwright tackling compelling subject matter with captivating characters but the heart of Albumen is a blinkered storyline that marries poorly in such an intensely intertwined and beautifully executed three-hander performance.
Albumen is playing in the TACTIC Series at Arts Court Theatre (2 Daly Ave) until Saturday March 23, 2019. Show runs for approximately 90 minutes. Tickets cost $20–25 online. The main entrance to Arts Court is up a flight of about twenty steps. For barrier-free access, enter through the new Ottawa Art Gallery building. The OAG and Arts Court are connected by hallways.