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Three Women of Swatow – Review of Chloe Hung’s Bloodbath of a Play at Tarragon

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Three Women of Swatow, Tarragon Theatre

“Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.”
That is what the unhinged Lady Macbeth says recalling the blood she saw oozing from the bodies of King Duncan and his guards who had been butchered by her husband.
If Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and perhaps William Shakespeare had seen Chloé Hung’s Three Women of Swatow they would have known that murder and blood need not produce insanity, nightmares an any untoward effects. Hung and Tarragon Theatre were not around then to show how to handle blood and parts of the human anatomy in a bathtub.
The play has three characters. The Grandmother (played by Carolyn Fe), her daughter, referred to as the Mother (played by (Chantria Tram) and the Daughter of the Mother, of course, (played Diana Luong), we have three generations of the same family living in Toronto.
There are some issues among the three, Grandmother can chew nails and spit rust, as they say, and drinks hard liquor to excess. She also reads Bible stories about murder. A nice touch that. Her daughter is married to an abusive gambler but she refuses to leave him. How abusive is he and and on what does she base her faith that he will be reformed? This becomes even more inexplicable as the play progresses.
The granddaughter is a smart, independent young lady who chooses to live with her grandmother rather than her parents. Is she the hope of the family?
These issues are not well-developed at all and the overriding problem in the play is murder and its by-product blood. The Grandmother was forced to marry a man she did not love, and she used her skill with a meat cleaver to dispatch her husband to another dimension. We learn very little about the conduct of the husbands to justify their murders.
Her daughter has sent her husband’s soul only to the same destination as her father but not his body which is now lying in a large bathtub on stage. What do you do with a bathtub full of blood and the body of a man?
The granddaughter is not quite prepared to follow in the family tradition (she is even a vegetarian) and the play will lead us to the climactic relationship among the three women.
Like lady Macbeth, some of us are astounded by the amount of blood the husband in the bathtub has. There is blood on the fridge door, the floor and just about everywhere, it seems. The women keep stirring but some body parts clog the drain. The granddaughter brings five plungers (I hope you bought them from different stores, says the Grandmother) and a couple of large bottles of drain unclogger to help with the job at hand.
Is this a straightforward horror story or is it black comedy? There is not enough horror in three women trying to drain blood down the drain. The reasons for the murders are not sufficiently developed for us to feel relief and then horror.
Is it a black comedy? There are a few good lines as when the five plungers are brought in or the Mother says that “killing your husband is not a good parenting tactic.” Most of the black comedy lines unfortunately misfired.
Director Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster calls the play a black comedy and it may well be intended as such but we need a lot more laughter even if it is uncomfortable, brutal or sadistic
Fe, Tram and Luong are excellent in their roles but the play can use a dramaturge to provide more focus and justification for the brutal acts of murder, be they funny, farcical or serious.
And poor Lady Macbeth went bonkers by just remembering the bloodbath.
Three Women of Swatow by Chloé Hung continues until May 15, 2022 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario. It will be streamed digitally by Digital Tarragon Chez Vous in May 15-25. www.tarragontheatre.com

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