The first character in “Talking With” is an actress preparing to go onstage. The other 10 women presenting the series of monologues/playlets that follow speak of life-shaping experiences, from the commercialization of rodeo to the importance of lamps; from the death of one’s mother to the birth of a damaged child. The aim appears to be to use extremes to create a greater understanding of normality, which succeeds in prompting reactions from the predominantly female audience. But involvement depends heavily on the quality of performance and writing, both of which are variable.
The women onstage talk of obsession and twisted perceptions in various forms: a snake handler extolling the insight of snakes; an actress prepared to kill the pet cat she has brought to her audition if she is not given a role; a street person dreaming of living at a McDonald’s; a baton twirler who has visions of Christ; and two women hiding behind very different disguises — one frantically vacuuming, wearing a patchwork of material scraps and a mask, the other covered in tattoos as a way of compensating for being mutilated after an attempted rape.
Playwright Jane Martin — believed to be a pseudonym for Jon Jory, who directed the original production of “Talking With” at the 1982 Humana fest in Louisville, Ky., and later in New York — promises “lacerating personal insights” through the opening monologue. While the collage of experiences and personalities is sometimes interesting, those deep insights are rare, especially 24 years after the script was written and several years past the peak of militant feminism.
The production is deftly directed by Janet Irwin. Among the most effective sequences is Kate Egan-Veinotte as a woman in labor; Kristina Watt’s mesmerizing snake handler; and Tori Hammond’s funny, washed-up rodeo rider. With probably the most difficult assignment, that of setting the scene, Nicky Brodie exhibits perfect control and razor-sharp timing.
Not all the monologues or performers pack the same punch. The material for the baton twirler’s presentation dilutes the strength of Sarah McVie’s presentation. Maureen Smith tends to whine through the description of her mother’s death. The monotony of Scarlett Thomas’ audition piece (together with the scene-stealing kitten and the offensiveness of threatening and miming its cruel death) drags.
Role doubling might have added a layer of interest, as well as making the production more economically viable. As it stands, despite its periodic power and a classy ending, “Talking With” — the first show from Ottawa’s newest professional theater company — is not likely to go as far as its producer hoped.