The liquid basis of life on Earth is the central metaphor for the newest show in the Arts at the Barns Series, Carol Murray-Gilchrist’s The Frequency of Water. First staged at the 2006 Edmonton Fringe, the play’s framing device is a lecture delivered by Professor Michael Garrett (Dave Horak), a university professor whose controversial work involves proving that water has memory and that polluted water can be cleansed through sonoluminescence—the application of sound to water bubbles which creates light. Woven together with Michael’s lecture is the dual storyline of a summer in his boyhood, when he was sent to his grandmother’s lakeside home while his parents finalized their divorce.
What transpires is a guilelessly emotional tale of youthful naïveté and its loss, and a deep exploration of the complex relationship we have with our memories, particularly the painful ones. As Michael delivers his lecture, his memories of that formative summer bubble up to consciousness and are embodied by his younger self (Jack Walker), a young girl Annie (Emma Walker), and his grandmother Ruby (Michele Vance Hehir).
Michael has been labelled a “crackpot” for his scientifically unverified theories; it’s instructive to witness his younger self casually tossing that same label at his grandmother when she tries to teach him and Annie how to dowse—a method of divination using a forked stick to search for underground water. Murray-Gilchrist’s script is not here, however, to convince the audience of the veracity of these fringe ideas and practices, fascinating though they may be. Rather, the point is to show how memory continues to grow and change over time, and how certain moments can become so embedded in our psyche that they will continue to influence us into our present and future.
Horak delivers a quietly impassioned performance that perfectly offsets that of the more obstreperous younger performers, whose outbursts could occasionally use a bit more finesse. Vance Hehir is convincing as the sympathetic grandmother dealing with a difficult kid, though she seems overly tolerant of her grandson’s repeated outbursts of profanity—it doesn’t quite ring true that she wouldn’t have chastised a preteen for such language.
Nonetheless these are very small concerns and, overall, The Frequency of Water is a lovely, spare examination of loss and absolution.
Until Sun, Jan 26 (7:30 pm)
Directed by Maralyn Ryan
ATB Financial Arts Barns,
$18 – $20