BWW Review: OIL at Geary Lane
Generations ago, we held each other for warmth. Now, we have heaters.
OIL, which premiered last night at Geary Lane, is an epic story, an eat-before-you-arrive play that will take up your evening and take over your mind. It consists of five vignettes across five periods of history, beginning in the late 19th century and continuing into a bleak, imagined future. The scenes are united by theme - oil, modernity, ambition, isolation - and character: each scene follows a woman called May, a mother or mother-to-be, who only wants the best for her child.
OIL functions like a symphony, with sounds and motifs appearing and reappearing in unusual and exciting places. The sound of banging - a farmer chopping wood, a petulant teen demanding attention - evokes the rhythm of oil rigs. A plucked rotten chicken in 1889 becomes a supermarket chicken Kiev in 1970. Characters thought long-lost come back as ghosts, memories, or ideas. Playwright Ella Hickson's vast script never loses a thread; it is an infinite tapestry contained in a neat and beautiful box.
At the centre of it all is the tension between modernity and isolation. To move forward, Hickson seems to argue, is to move away from others. This is especially true for mothers, who often make great personal sacrifices to secure the well-being of their children. I never thought motherhood and petroleum could enjoy such convincing allegory, but OIL proved me wrong.
Where I remain unconvinced, however, is in Hickson's searing critique of modernity. Were humans really less isolated before we had electric stoves? Sure, we shared beds for warmth, lived 10 to a house. But is company the same as companionship? Does ambition necessarily lead to segregation?
Aviva Armour-Ostroff and Christopher Stanton direct a strong and versatile cast. Courtenay Stevens' pivot from a scoundrel to a numbskull between the second and third scenes is one of the play's great pleasures. Bahareh Yaraghi and Samanatha Brown have terrific chemistry as mother and daughter. Everyone in the cast deserves commendation for their accent and foreign language skills.
There's one moment from OIL that I keep replaying in my head. It's the end of the second scene, the one set in Tehran, in 1908. May and her daughter, Amy, are in trouble. They need to get out. May knows exactly what she's going to do: she's going to steal some money and find a car and just drive. Drive out into the desert, out into the Shaw's Persia. She throws chance to the wind and embraces the opportunity in front of her.
ARC's OIL runs through 21 March at Geary Lane, 360 Geary Ave, Toronto.
For more information or to buy tickets, click here.