Dark, gothic play that’s ultimately ‘about justice’ makes a splash at Motyer-Fancy Theatre

Three young women in white, old fashioned night gowns and pale makeup, appear to be climbing out of a bathtub.
Three actors portray dozens of characters in The Drowning Girls. (Rear to front): Emma Etheridge, Maya Noëlle, and Phoebe Rex. Photo credit: Galen Juliusson. Costume and set design: Ian McFarlane.
Erica Butler - CHMA - SackvilleNB | 30-11-2023
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“We’re really excited about this transformation at the theater,” says director Valmai Goggin about the latest production out of the Mount Allison drama studies program, The Drowning Girls, which opened Wednesday night in the Mother-Fancy Theatre in Sackville.

The Drowning Girls is a play that takes place, mostly, in three bathtubs full of water. And the water really is central to the story,” says Goggin.

The Drowning Girls was written by three Canadians, Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, and Daniela Vlaskalic, and tells the true story of three women who were married to, and murdered by, the same man, George Joseph Smith, in the early 1900s.

“There is definitely a dark and gothic undertone to the show,” says Goggin. “But it’s actually a show that is surprisingly full of light and joy. And what happens to these women in the show is that while they were strangers to each other in real life, the play puts them on stage together, and allows them to create this really incredible sisterhood.”

A cast of three student actors play the three main characters and dozens of others over the course of the show, says Goggin. Another eight to ten students are working backstage, making the magic happen. “They’ve learned more about plumbing than they probably had previously,” says Goggin with a laugh. “All of the work that we do in the drama studies program is led by faculty and staff, but the vast majority of the execution is student volunteer time and labor. So it really is a team effort.”

The Drowning Girls has become something of a Canadian classic since it debuted at the Edmonton Fringe Festival in 1999, and was reborn again in 2008. Aside from the allure of the unique challenges of working with three bathtubs full of water, the play also “really centres female voices and female perspective,” says Goggin. “Ultimately, it’s a play about justice. And it’s a play about giving these women the voice and space that they never had in their lives.”

Goggin has high hopes the show will win over local audiences. “We try to do shows that support and expand the academics for our drama students, but that also are going to be real draws for local Sackville audiences,” says Goggin. “Our shows are not just for students, they’re for the entire community.”

The Drowning Girls will run to Saturday, December 2.  Friday’s show is sold out, but tickets are still available on Eventbrite for Saturday, and Thursday is a pay-what-you-can performance, with cash-only tickets available at the door.