Right from the start, Pretty Ugly Production’s Underneath It All first thrusts you into a maelstrom of panicked speech, dizzying and obscure at first, the relevance of which is slowly teased out through the quasi-monologue of Hannah Gibson-Fraser’s unnamed character. As though caught in the vortex she herself alludes, we watch as she slowly circles around an unknown source of trauma, slowly pulling at the loose threads around the edges of her memory as Jodi Morden—playing the psychiatrist, the echo, the memory—coaxes her along to truths she’d rather not admit.
However, as Gibson-Fraser’s character continues to reminisce, there is a growing realization that she is no stranger to trauma, to abuses masquerading themselves as love…
Underneath It All is unsettling. Despite the occasional splash of humour, this show does not (and is not meant to) make you feel good by the end of it. For me, the emotional charge it carries is already more than enough, but I think the greatest value in this piece is that the emotional resonance here is not simply going to disturb; it will trigger some self-reflection. Even if it doesn’t make you rethink your view of interpersonal relationships, ones that we may even take for granted, it will make you consider how you view them.
Hannah Gibson-Fraser drives the performance forward with her fittingly tempestuous moods as she drifts from memories of safe places to memories of places less so. Her reminiscences are the meat of this performance. Jodi Morden’s role is much more subtle. While there is quite often a distance between her and the focus is on Gibson-Fraser, this would be a much different performance without her. Twinning Gibson-Fraser in many ways, Morden seems to be able to do what Gibson-Fraser cannot, which is provide the objective, quantitative observations of Gibson-Fraser’s subjective experiences, a subconscious voice saying and prodding the things we won’t (or don’t want to) consciously admit to.
Truth be told, this show almost flew under my radar—partly because of show description doesn’t cover the true breadth of what this show is really about. While it does delve into the formative years of the leading woman’s life, it also works to dissect those first relationships we strive to build and how they teach (or fail to teach) us how to have loving, consenting, and healthy relationships with other people. It chips away at the ideal veneer of parenting and young love, revealing a world where a child comes to believe they must first submit to their parents before being loved, to excuse and normalize parental violence because parents always know best — showing how this eventually gets carried forward in a child’s understanding of love.
Underneath It all runs as part of the Ottawa Fringe Festival now through Saturday June 17th.