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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Review: Duplicity Girls

by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Fifteen minutes into Ned Cox's Duplicity Girls, I realized that this was not a play as much as it was a piece of music for two voices...a kind of chamber opera, if you will. And it was not for nothing that Benjamin Britten's adaptation of Henry James' Turn of the Screw popped into my head. For Girls, as with the James, is about a household where something is not quite right.

But back to the music for a moment...Johanna Nutter and Paula Costain play two sisters who display their hatred for each other in different ways—one openly and darkly (the alto) the other brightly and with no shortage of cheerful passive aggressivity (the soprano). They talk at cross purposes, they repeat each others words (turning the tone to make the phrase mean exactly the opposite of what the other said), they have bitter little duets, quiet arias and little fugues—each note getting under each other's skin. If you are an impatient theatre-goer, this will try your patience. But if you like the ebb and flow of dialogue crisply written, expertly directed (Tanner Harvey) and sublimely performed than you will stick with this difficult work.

The actors and director have avoided all the pitfalls the play must have presented on the page. In others' hands, this would have been cut-rate Pinter—playing those celebrated pauses simply because they were there and not because they represented breath, sometimes breath held, and so, sometimes, menace. Because this is a dark piece from the know that even before Chekhov's gun—in the form of a new set of knives—is presented into the story. You know it from the way the women are dressed and the way they move, or don't. You definitely understand it from the way they tease each other...or, rather, taunt each other because something tells you there is nothing fun about their relationship (even though it is not operatically—back to music again—hostile).

It is the dark drama of the trivial which is not trivial. (Like Oprah says, "A huge fight about socks on the floor is never about socks on the floor.") It is the tragedy of dysfunctional families who never air their grievances openly. It is, finally though, a haunting, thoroughly disturbing and mysterious piece about identity and—not to put too fine a point on it—existence.

You'll be talking about it when you leave.

But be patient.

Duplicity Girls by Ned Cox is part of the WildSide Festival.
Read Ford's Focus on Cox.


  1. A duel, a duet, a study in contrasts, a tone poem, the theatrical simplicity of one character merely sitting, the other prowling (full disclosure: I have a cat and a kitten)... Two very fine actresses at the top of their game in an excellent script and simple direction. Bravo. This show is a classic.

  2. I agree...I can't get it out of my head, All week I've been thinking that if I was a savvy composer I'd contact Cox and arrange to turn this into an opera. I know the Royal Opera has a studio space and theynare doing small two-handers with small orchestra and taking London by storm,


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