Girl in the Goldfish Bowl

by Morris Panych
ISBN: 0889224811

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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 nostalgia.
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.

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