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THEATRE REVIEW: ‘Original’ explores what it means to be a woman

Sharon King Campbell as Pandora in Persistence Theatre’s “Original.” — Ashley Harding photo
Sharon King Campbell as Pandora in Persistence Theatre’s “Original.” — Ashley Harding photo

Sharon King-Campbell’s one-woman show dazzles as it delves into truth and myth

“The story goes … “

The stage is set with a circular hearth, lined and stacked with animal skins. A triangular frame stands left, behind a bracket of stones. A figure enters, wrapped in cloth, face hidden, singing, almost crooning. In what is the first of many striking lighting effects, a single forehead lamp is the only illumination, sometimes guiding a path, other times blazing straight into the eyes of the audience. It’s both atavistic and futuristic.

Sharon King-Campbell as Eve. — Ashley Harding photo
Sharon King-Campbell as Eve. — Ashley Harding photo

Seated, unwrapping outer garments, a woman emerges. Or rather, three women. As portrayed by Sharon King-Campbell, who also wrote the script, the audience will meet Embla, in Norse mythology the first woman created by the gods; Pandora, who occupies the same position in Greek mythology; and Eve, who perhaps needs no introduction. The trio of archetypes (the number three is symbolically apt and important and crops up many times in the play), help the audience explore, as the play’s description states: “What being a woman means … throughout Western Civilization.”

Embla and Eve had male counterparts, Ask and Adam, respectively. Pandora was created on the instruction of Zeus with gifts from all the gods. Pandora and Eve are both held responsible for bringing evil into the world (apple, box). All three are immortal and moving through time, unrecognized on the scene of major events (volcanos, revolutions).

Each opens her tale with, “The story goes … “, entwining lore with her own experience of what really happened. Pandora, for example, clarifies that it was a pot, not a box — that error crept in through bad translation. She did manage to replace the lid before the last thing/creature/force flew out. Common wisdom holds this is hope, but Pandora isn’t so sure. She keeps the pot secreted with her, tries to keep it safe.

The three women establish their own journey, before (unexpectedly) meeting and perceiving each other in Paris, 1789. Obviously much is afoot — Eve, in particular, is energized by the Women’s March on Versailles. But in the melee they lose track of each other. Pandora isn’t sure that such a bad thing, as Embla was starting to display an uncomfortable interest in the pot and its possible contents.

Sharon King-Campbell as Embla. — Ashley Harding photo
Sharon King-Campbell as Embla. — Ashley Harding photo

King-Campbell expresses all this directly to the audience, shifting between the three characters. Pandora is the most affecting, possibly because she’s the most differentiated, but Eve and Embla also nail some wicked lines. The dialogue can be a bit too “on,” but King-Campbell keeps her delivery sincere, measured, and engaging — director Berni Stapleton at work there.

The lighting design, as noted above, is really special, with sparklings of stars, blooming petals of lava, and a spill of red that seems to take the weight of a particular piece of fruit (production design by Diana Daly, with Fionn Shea as lighting operator). A soundscape (by Kat Burke) builds and ebbs, flowing with the narrative. King-Campbell’s costume, a palette of army surplus and natural textures, is both combat-ready and tribal (head of wardrobe Melanie Ozon). “Original” is the first show of PerSIStence’s second season — congrats!

“Original” is on stage at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s until Dec. 2. Running time is 80 minutes, with no intermission.

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