A Riveting Insight into Domestic Abuse: The Malicious Basement Presents Wretch

Wretch is a work of art. The show is the brainchild of The Malicious Basement’s artistic director Alexander Barth and director Marissa Blair after numerous discussions between them about theatre and philosophy.

“I thought he was working on a ‘Goldilocks-type’ story, and then he came back with Wretch,” Blair says in an email.

Wretch debuted at Festival de la Bête Noire’s virtual theatre festival in February 2021, and will be part of Montreal Fringe 2021. The theatre community has faced particular challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most have opted to go virtual or spend the time working on projects they’ve been neglecting. This created particular challenges with Wretch, with actors having to wear masks the whole time, and Blair and cast developing a culture and characters that fit CNESST safety guidelines and their personal comfort zones.

Festival de la Bête Noire had production rules that restricted any post production or cutting. In order to work around this, Blair created a fourth character, the Voyeur, who would act as the audience’s eyes, “able to roam around the stage space (in the round) deciding what was important to see – to work as an invisible entity, or a ghost-like figure walking amongst the other characters.”

Other challenges came with Quebec’s (soon to be lifted) curfew, as it created additional limitations regarding rehearsal times. As to what it was like filming a play as opposed to preparing something for the live stage, Blair says it’s completely different, “like asking a baseball player to join a cricket match. Not everyone can do it, or should do it.”

If you’re looking for a play that follows a straightforward format with an introduction, denouement, and conclusion this is not the show for you. If you are uncomfortable witnessing physical and emotional abuse, this is definitely not the show for you. An abuse survivor myself, the show made me squirm in a lot of ways and I was grateful that a friend agreed to watch it with me – socially distanced and masked.

The best way to describe Wretch is as a study, an insight into the kinds of abuse that typically happens behind closed doors. There is blood, one of Marissa Blair’s signatures, and there is some other liquid my friend and I thought was either bile or feces, all fake, of course.

There is also emotional abuse, bondage, pain and mutilation. What makes this piece a standout is how accurately it portrays how an abuser can go from mundane affection to brutal physical and emotional abuse. More importantly, the gender dynamic is flipped, with Lila Bata-Walsh as the abuser and Jordan Prentice the abusee.

The tale of a woman being abused is a tale we’re all familiar with, but situations where a man is abused by a woman are still taboo. Wretch forces this dynamic out into the open, with Jordan Prentice’s riveting portrayal of a man trying to navigate his partner’s abusive, violent mood swings and actions, and yet so accustomed to both that he cannot bring himself to leave despite being given every opportunity.

Playing off of him, Lila Bata-Walsh is scary, portraying the shifts between childlike anger and romantic yet maternal love, perfectly playing the violent aggression and mood swings that so many abuse survivors are all-too familiar with. The third player in Wretch is the one whom I sadly had the greatest issues with. Jacqueline Van De Geer plays Mother Bliss, a dominatrix “topping” both Bata-Walsh and Prentice, and while she did hit all the marks one would expect of a domme, her movements and delivery were too stylized, rendering them insincere.

Van De Geer’s Mother Bliss doesn’t seem like an actual dominatrix at work, but rather an actor playing a dominatrix at work. I would have liked to see a Mother Moon that was more relaxed, with a quieter kind of intensity than what I saw in Wretch.

If you want a true insight into domestic abuse, with a little BDSM thrown in, you need to see Wretch. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s also captivating.

Wretch is playing online June 1st to 20th as part of the hybrid 2021 Montreal Fringe Festival. Tickets available through MontrealFringe.ca (currently only the 20th is displayed)

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