Eternal Hydra, written by Toronto writer Anton Piatigorsky, is an invigorating, challenging play that wrestles with the concept of authorship and appropriation of voice. A Touchstone Theatre production outstandingly directed by Katrina Dunn, its opening night audience buzzed with excitement, hung around the theatre afterwards and, even later, stood discussing it outside in the rain.
Is it true that writers, as claimed by character Gordias Carbuncle (John Murphy), a self-loathing Irish-Jewish novelist living in Paris in the 1930s, simply steal other peoples stories or do they give a voice to the otherwise voiceless?
Vivian Ezra (Laara Sadiq) is a scholar who for six years has been so deeply involved in an unpublished 1,000-page manuscript by now-deceased Carbuncle that she has materialized him; she hears him, sees him, adores him. The discovery of his diary by publisher Randall Wellington Jr. (Andrew Wheeler), however, reveals Carbuncle was a terrible drunk who mean-spiritedly denied his research assistant who was in love with him credit for her work. Worse, he actually bought one of the 100 stories in his Eternal Hydra manuscript from impoverished African-American writer Selma Thomas (Cherissa Richards) and passed it off as his own. Was this any more fraudulent, Carbuncle argues, than Shakespeare borrowing virtually all of his plots from other sources?
There are many layers in this play that shifts back and forth from the office of publisher Randall Wellington Jr., back to the 30s and even further back to 1866, and the story of Selma Thomass grandmother, a freed slave turned shoemaker.
David Roberts set, lit by Adrian Muir, is handsome and efficient: a wood-panelled rear wall with windows and doors that open and close to set various locales: Paris, the publishers office, the shoemakers shop.
This is a provocative play with all 11 roles superbly performed by Murphy, Sadiq, Wheeler and Richards; it shakes to the very roots our ideas about writers: geniuses or thieves?
At Studio 16 until Nov. 11
1545 West Seventh Ave.