A young girl is abducted and never seen again. More than 10 years later, when a man is arrested for her abduction and murder, it should feel like closure for her grieving parents. Instead, it throws the years since her disappearance into painful relief: illuminating the many ways they have used denial to cope.
Margo’s mother Brigitte (Briony Williams) was an active and engaged member of the investigation but after finding nothing, she fell into a life of facades as a real estate agent, selling the idea of happy families to her clients while slowly rebuilding her shattered dreams. Her new lover (Margarita Gershkovich) wants to be a part of Brigitte’s current life but struggles desperately against the shadow of Margo and her abductor. On the other hand, Margo’s father Serge (Tony Barea) has made no moves to hide his crumbling life and comes to Brigitte for help that she can’t really provide. As the three circle around each other, they repeatedly fail to communicate honestly and connect under the weight of the tragic past. Perhaps with this man’s arrest, Brigitte can finally acknowledge all that she has lost.
Jackson Used’s new script weaves together characters living, dead, and unidentified to explore grief and uncertainty. While often overladen with metaphors, the characters are attempting to convey the ambiguity of a missing child and how even confirmation of her death only complicates matters, rearranging the natural order of things. There is an interesting subplot of the family’s tragedy becoming the focus of a true crime podcast. Listening to the podcast, Brigitte’s guilt is compounded when the host implies her complicity in Margo’s disappearance. This stands out as an attempt to consider the place of true crime media as entertainment that has the potential to extend the trauma for victim’s loved ones, a debate currently still ongoing in true crime circles. But the plot point fizzles and goes undeveloped in favour of further uncertainty about Brigitte’s mental health. Frequently the script falters at substantiating its characters with grounding in reality and instead offers vagueness or metaphor which ultimately undermines the power of this story.
Williams is compelling as Margo’s mother, balancing being both brittle and defensive and clearly struggling to navigate her new relationship. As her opposite, Gershkovich is kind and pliant nearly to the point of suffocation. When the two argue it seems they’re speaking different languages in a tangled mess of misdirected implications and assumptions. The audience is offered a glimpse of the couple before this rough patch but it would have been satisfying to see more of their relationship and the context of their current stalemate. With this in mind, Mikala Westall’s direction finds brief moments of tenderness that could be afforded more attention in the production’s pacing.
At the climax of the production, Brigitte is trapped in a nightmare, wrestling with a goat creature that may also be her lover. In this sequence the abstraction of the production’s layered dream-states works to strengthen the emotional connection between Brigitte and the audience, deepening the understanding of her psychological state. With more of this, Pit could become a more thrilling depiction of trauma and the shortcomings of memory.
Production design from Keerthi Subramanyam sets the action in the warmly lit living room of Brigitte’s new home. A mote of sand surrounds the stage, giving lingering characters something to manipulate while outside the scene. Sand is thrown, piled up, and run through characters’ fingers perhaps as a visual metaphor for the passing of time but, considering the setting of a small rural town and repeated mentions of farms and Margo’s shallow grave, the sand feels at odds with the specific images of the script.
Tragedy in the death of a child is a valuable story of grief with many opportunities for complication and nuance. While Pit valiantly attempts to find the beautiful heartbreak of Brigitte’s character, the production feels unclear and underdeveloped.
Pit is running at the Old 505 Theatre from February 25th – March 1st