The Drowning Girls

March 27, 2010 at 8:32 pm (Recreation) (, , , , , , , , )

Spiritually, I am a spinster. Actually, I am a divorcee. Two words that are loaded with assumptions as far as women are concerned. I consider myself more of a spinster because my marriage was short and I have chosen both willingly and unwillingly, to live a solitary life. Historically, most women were not given that choice.

It was not all that long ago that a woman would suffer through many sorrows in her desperation to avoid spinsterhood. I went to a play, The Drowning Girls, Friday evening that stressed the fragility of spinsterhood and the importance of marriage for women 100 years ago. Spinsters were cast aside and forgotten; marriage meant being a useful member of society. Only a man could rescue a woman from a lonely spinster’s life.

The three women depicted, aged over 20 to just under 40, feared they would become that despised creature, the spinster, and longed for the freedom and status women could acquire at that time only through marriage. One married innocently, a second skeptically and the third in a spirit of adventure.

These three women — Bessie (Daniela Vlaskalic), Alice (Beth Graham), and Margaret (Natasha Girgis) — let themselves be charmed and coerced into marriage by their own fears, society’s expectations and the charming manner of the money-grubbing cad George Joseph Smith.

Bessie (28, I think) was married for a time. She is our innocent romantic, sheltered, desperately desiring marriage. Only then would she become a useful member of society.

Alice (26) was married six weeks. She is tired of being a lady and her impertinent energy reminds me so much of the twenty-somethings I know now. She is at the point where she sees marriage as a way to escape home and gain some freedom. She sees marriage as a new adventure to be relished.

Margaret (38) was married a day. She is the skeptic who is straightforward and who speaks her mind. The eldest of the three brides, she’s on her way to spinsterhood and is seemingly comfortable with the idea. That is, until opportunity presents itself. The unsure Margaret, looks hungrily at the engagement ring and goes from wringing her hands to suddenly lunging forward with a desperate grab. I weep for her because I could be her under similar circumstances.

You could consider water the fourth cast member. It fills the tubs and rains down on the women from above. Over the course of the play water takes on the role of tea, perfume, ink, confetti and most importantly, a murder weapon.

Three stark white claw-footed bathtubs set a few feet apart under cool blue lights, three old-style shower heads overhead, three Edwardian brides in ivory camisoles and long, frilly knickers. There is water in the tubs and the shower-heads are functional. The water is as substantial as tears.

The Drowning Girls is based on an old Scotland Yard case and in the way of media then and now, the playwrights found far more information on Smith than on any of his victims. The play is loosely based on the true story of George Joseph Smith (a.k.a. the Brides in the Bath Murderer) who married and murdered three wives between 1912 and 1914.

Between 1908 and 1914, just before the First World War, this habitual criminal married seven women, stole from all of them and killed three. The cops got suspicious, after being directed to similarities surrounding the crimes, and Smith was arrested. The trial set a precedent in forensic science (Victorian CSI, anyone) for comparing several similar cases to get a conviction. Smith, a serial killer and a bigamist, met his end at the end of a rope Aug. 13, 1915 — a Friday, of course.

The Drowning Girls is a delight and the three actors are sopping wet in period costumes for the whole show. Girgis, Graham and Vlaskalic are in and out of the bathtubs and soaked under shower-heads for over an hour. They splash around, don wedding gowns and assume other identities: worried parents, Scotland Yard investigators, and scullery maids. The women flop backwards, dive headfirst and slip sideways into the tubs. They splash gleefully or perch ladylike on the side of a tub at a “tea party” — the water cupped by hand from the bathwater.

In spite of the constant deluge, the brides seem to be enjoying themselves. Do they delight in the fact that they did not die as spinsters?

Beneath the dark humour and onstage antics was a play that made me think about my life and how society’s views on spinsterhood has and has not changed.

For a mere $20.00, I got an enjoyable evening out and I would highly recommend that all women go and see this play. Lonely, spinster me went with my eldest sister; because, even in this day and age, social gatherings are more enjoyable shared.

The Drowning Girls
Written by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, Daniela Vlaskalic
Presented by Bent Out of Shape Productions
Starring Beth Graham, Daniela Vlaskalic, and Natascha Girgis
Runs until April 4, 2010 @ Persephone Theatre

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