Michael Futcher and Helen Howard, The Drowning Bride (Sydney: Currency Press, 2005), 91pp
Though The Drowning Bride is a short, two-act play, Michael Futcher and Helen Howard nevertheless have crafted a piece of work possessing of real emotional punch and complex characters. As with their previous effort A Beautiful Life, interest in the story is retained by the slow reveal of various skeletons-in-the-closet, not only from the aging former Nazi collaborator Valdis but also from the ghost of old Sarmitte. Like Ellen, the couple's granddaughter, the reader wants to know what drove these two people apart in the past; the emotional impact comes from the gradual realisation that both of them made mistakes, that both hurt each other. The play deals with a rather gray morality which fits the general mood and the spooky artwork cover (which plays a thematic role in the plot, and a neat way to wrap up the ending), as Valdis and Sarmitte are haunted by the things they felt compelled to do to survive in Nazi-occupied Latvia in World War Two.
There is also a nice contrast to the Valdis/Sarmitte relationship with the modern-day Ellen and Matt, who seem destined to repeat the same sort of mistakes that Ellen's grandparents made, making decisions that drive each other away rather than closer together. The general message of the play seems to be that one should not ignore the mistakes of the past (as Valdis initially seems to do) and let them eat away at you; rather, you should confront them, let them overpower you temporarily if needs be, so long as you emerge with forgiveness on the other side. The metaphor of the 'drowning bride' is instructive here, as Ellen hints: "People who've nearly drowned say it's peaceful. If you let the water take you. Sometimes you hear voices from the shore calling you back. If you can still fight it, if you want to, you can return. But you always remember the peace of that moment... after you let the water in." (pp72-3).
Futcher and Howard keep the two parallel stories (Valdis/Sarmitte in the 1940s, Ellen/Matt in the present day) both in hand, continuing and improving on their skill in juxtaposition that was also present in parts of A Beautiful Life. As with that earlier play, they also seem to have an intuitive understanding of the mindset of immigrants who are unable to escape their troubled past, and deal with the emotionally-raw issues (both The Drowning Bride and A Beautiful Life are based on true life stories of the pair's close friends) with sensitivity. Short in length, emotionally powerful and thematically rich - can you ever really ask for more?