Fringe Festival production highlights raw, emotional journey of its playwright

ON STAGE

What: The Shadow in the Water
Where: Metro Theatre, 1411 Quadra St.
When: Through Sept. 12
Tickets: intrepidtheatre.com

The Shadow in the Water is advertised as a tale of love, loss, and sharks. But as it comes from the mind of acclaimed Victoria playwright David Elendune, the result has a multitude of meanings brought about by a variety creative forces and ideas.

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Elendune describes it as “a memory play,” wherein the two actors on stage (Wendy Magahay and Rosemary Jeffrey) represent the present, while a video screen with flashback footage illuminates the past. Elendune, who has drawn raves for his acting, appears briefly during one of the flashbacks (“It’s my Hitchcock walk-on part,” he said), but he is not the star. That was by choice. This particular production placed a heavy burden on his shoulders, as it involves (both directly and indirectly) his late wife, Jane. He was well into the writing process when his wife, who died in December, was diagnosed with brain cancer, which impacted the play from all sides, Elendune said.

“There was no if-only with her illness,” Elendune said. “She was screwed from Day One. That’s when it became a play about me and Jane and grief and death, and how you deal with knowing someone is going to die, and how you live after someone has died.”

Its debut also has considerable meaning for director Ian Case, whose signed on to the production at a time when his mother was dying. “[David and I] both went through this trajectory together I think that has informed the play to a certain degree,” Case said. “We were both each others’ support through that, so there’s a real personal connection to the subject matter.”

The play is set in 1969 and is centered around an elderly woman who is looking back at a pivotal event in her life — witnessing the infamous New Jersey shark attacks of 1916, which inspired the Steven Spielberg movie, Jaws. Early drafts saw Elendune takes a wild detour and incorporate the troubles Spielberg encountered in trying to bring the blockbuster movie to completion. The finished product is less fantastical, albeit with elements of the New Jersey shark attack intact.

To reveal more would be to divulge some key plots points. “I feel it to very hard to look at this with a dispassionate eye, because of the usual writer-insecurities and also because of my emotional connection to it. How a causal viewer comes in an sees it? That’s how it will be judged.”

The Shadow in the Water is being staged until Sept. 12 at The Metro Theatre, as part of the annual Victoria Fringe Festival. Tickets are moving quickly in advance, which is not surprising for a play by Elendune, whose previous productions (Sherlock Holmes & The Curse of Moriarty, Leer, Frankenstein and Good Night Uncle Joe, among others), have been big hits. The Briton (he was born in Wiltshire, England) has been a fixture in Victoria since his arrival in 2004, but The Shadow in the Water could be his biggest splash to date.

“It’s a realty unique play for David,” Case said. “He has really stepped outside of his comfort zone, and investigated some very personal things in this play. We’ve landed on something that is quite creative.”

While grief is the primary construct, The Shadow in the Water is also about hope, and the desire to live in the face of death. “Sometimes there’s a tunnel at the end of the light, and sometimes there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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