Living in the weird world of Alistair McDowall’s POMONA for some time now, it’s been easy to fall in love with the dark and fantastical elements of the show. The nods to Lovecraft and the Necronomicon. McDowall’s complex yet elegant structure that plays ingeniously with the timeline, twisting and folding our notions of what happens when. The fluid sense of identity. The sudden shifts in tone. The constant surprises.
It’s scary. It’s strange. It’s hilarious. It’s absurd. But it’s also deadly serious.
POMONA examines action and inaction in the face of some of the ugliest truths. How we turn terrible realites into stories, and then compartmentalize or ignore the stories.
It asks difficult questions about gender politics, and our tendency to marginalize victims of gendered violence – particularly sex-workers – as having somehow earned their fate. Upon first reading the work, this aspect of the play resonated very strongly with me in terms of contemporary Canadian life. The show is mythological, fantastical, even magical in scope – but I read it as a clear allegory for a reality far too familiar to Canadian audiences. Throughout the rehearsal process, we’ve been working hard to foreground the parallels between this script and contemporary issues such as Canada’s institutionalized apathy surrounding the long-running stream of missing and murdered indigenous women, or the sickening time it took for police and the public to take action in the Robert Pickton case in which at least 26 already-marginalized women from Vancouver’s downtown east side (many of them sex-workers) were murdered.
The play also makes us aware of the violence we ourselves commit every day, through silent acquiescence, willful ignorance, or apathy. Very early in POMONA, a character named Zeppo crystallizes the dilemma of trying to live an ethical life in the age of information. He says, ‘Every part of our lives and culture and diet and health and the clothes we wear… it’s all built on this foundation of pain and suffering. It’s like it’s impossible to be a good person now… There’s just people who are aware of the pain they’re causing, and people who aren’t aware.’ We need only examine the terrifying conditions of industrial livestock, or the tragedy of sweatshop buildings collapsing in Bangladesh, or the reliance of the Canadian economy upon fossil fuels in the face of climate change to understand how deeply implicated we all are. We compartmentalize. We justify. Occasionally, maybe, we weep. And yet, by and large, we continue to live as we have lived.
So. Is it even possible to live a ‘good’ life when our daily life is so closely linked to great violence occurring out of our sight? In an age where we are constantly bombarded by global tragedy through both social- and mass-media, how do we choose what to take action upon – or to truly care about? Will our ability to compartmentalize our own evil acts forever yield the same results – a cycle of violence, an unending loop? How can we, as individuals, help to break this cycle?
For the team here at ARC, POMONA is a richly envisioned, smartly written, darkly funny, haunting, and compelling allegorical tale that feels vitally relevant.
– Christopher Stanton, Director