||A Review of: Girl in the Goldfish Bowl
by Lia Marie Talia
Morris Panych's latest comedy won five 2003 Dora Mavor Moore Awards
and recently received the Governor General's Award for Drama. Like
his previous work, this play is a lyrical exploration of an imaginative
individual's profound feelings of alienation in an inhospitable
environment. In Girl in a Goldfish Bowl, the protagonist is a
ten-year-old girl named Iris who is preoccupied with the events
leading up to what she describes as "the last few days of her
childhood." In recent productions of the play at the Arts Club
and Tarragon theatres, Iris is played by an adult in child's clothing,
which reinforces the sense of her dislocation, confusion, and
A poetic memory play, it begins with Iris wearing swimming goggles
and practicing her backstroke as her parents try to ignore her.
Underwater metaphors are used throughout the play to signal that
these scenes emerge from deep within Iris's subconscious. As the
play begins, her parents, Sylvia and Owen, focus on maintaining a
deceptive calm. This calm precedes the maelstrom that changes their
world forever. In the unsettled atmosphere of their old boarding
house, Iris is out of her element, trying to stay afloat amid the
swells of her parents' marital conflicts. In her first monologue
she reflects on a childhood that is rapidly draining away, explaining
her mother's notion that "the moment you stop being happy, and
start remembering when you used to be" is the sign that you
have finally grown up. Iris believes that her own growing up' has
already begun with the death of her beloved goldfish, Amahl, a word
that means pure' in Hindu. Between this event and the play's
devastating ending, the audience is presented with Iris's distorted
perspective as she witnesses the disintegration of her parents'
marriage against the foreboding ambiance of the Cold War.
Panych uses Iris's magical thinking to explore how she understands
the breakdown of the certainties that held her childhood together.
With Amahl gone, Iris wonders how the world will survive and she
believes that it is this event that is responsible for plunging her
whole family into a "deep, deep well of sadness."
When the mysterious Mr. Lawrence shows up at her parents' boarding
house, Iris convinces herself that he is the reincarnation of Amahl
and believes he is there to bring her family together again. However,
as Act I ends, the audience realizes that Mr. Lawrence is doing the
exact opposite. While he is never actually identified as a fugitive,
he appears to be an escaped convict whom Sylvia seduces in a
last-ditch effort to escape her loveless marriage.
Act II explores what happens when Iris realizes that Mr. Lawrence
isn't all he's "cracked up to be." In the confusion
following his dalliance with Sylvia, he has a fatal accident, and
the whole family is plunged into crisis. For a brief moment in time
Iris thinks that the exhilaration that follows the disposal of Mr.
Lawrence's body along the shore of the Pacific portends her parents'
reconciliation, but soon her perspective shifts again and she is
engulfed by another wave of sadness. Iris reflects on this transition
saying, "This is the moment when I know for certain that there
is nothing, past or present, that could ever make things other than
they are. That chance, alone, makes them that way."
Panych's play, dedicated to his friend, the late Urjo Kareda
(1944-2001), is a poignant depiction of how the imagination can
fishbowl distortions of their immediate surroundings to a larger,
more promising world.