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undercurrents festival: Far & Near & Here – a memorable journey

By Barbara Popel on February 14, 2015

In 2005-06, during the worst hurricane season in recorded history, Julie Angus became the first woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean (yes, row) from mainland to mainland.  She was accompanied by her fiancé (now her husband), Colin Angus.  It took them 145 days.  Julie wrote a best-selling book about their experience, Rowboat in a Hurricane.

The story of their adventure inspired Karen Balcome and Geoff McBride (THUNK!theatre) to create the short play, Far & Near & Here, which they are performing at the undercurrents theatre festival, at Arts Court.  It’s a memorable journey.

The most memorable thing about the play is its set.  The stage is covered with a sea of empty plastic bottles.  Hundreds, maybe thousands of them.  There are also a couple of small office chairs – the kinds on rollers – and four nautical navigation lights. Then Ned (McBride) and Ted (Balcome) enter, both lugging huge bags of empty bottles – their provisions for their ocean journey.  They’re both inveterate list-makers; they rhyme off what’s essential for their trip:  flotation devices, prunes (high energy and small!), Gravol, rope, shark repellent, bottled water, …  But absolutely no coffee!

This segues into how Ned and Ted met.  Ned found a notebook Ted left in a coffee shop, mailed it back to him, and they entered into a correspondence between Far (where Ned lives) and Near (where Ted lives).  They eventually decide to meet in the Ocean, at 30 degrees North and 45 degrees West.  In sea-going 7-meter rowboats.  Ned works at a boat-building dock, so he’s supposedly the capable one, though he’s never done something like this before.  Ditto for Ted, except she can’t even swim.  She does have an affinity for the sea, however – she draws marine animals.

They also bring along some other baggage.  Ned, for example, brings “the last thing I said to my parents – that I’d rather die than end up like you”.  Ted brings her certainty that she was “born with very little talent”.  Ned says, “Sometimes I don’t know where I should be”.  Ted struggles with her inability to connect with people.

They set out, rowing through the sea of bottles.  They see wondrous sights on their way to their rendezvous – dolphins!  sea turtles!  They also see mile after mile of floating plastic detritus – hundreds of flip flops, beer can rings, plastic garbage.

Finally, they meet.  It’s awkward – they are both clumsy at social interactions with the opposite sex.

Then the hurricane hits.  Kudos to Al Connors (sound design) and Seth Gerry (lighting design).  They are genuine Prosperos in conjuring up a terrifying hurricane on stage!

And the denouement is not what I expected.

Far & Near & Here is presented by undercurrents theatre festival, taking place at Arts Court Studio (2 Daly Ave) until February 21, 2015. This performance is $15 or buy an evening pass for $25. Two performances remain: Saturday, February 14 at 1 pm and Friday, February 20 at 9 pm. Click here for a detailed schedule.