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|Written by Wayne Current|
|Tuesday, 12 January 2010 00:00|
I was intrigued by the description of Toronto-based multi-disciplinary theatre company Human Cargo's approach to the creative process. They aim to "transform their life experiences into theatrical language" through a "cross cultural exchange and professional mentorship." With this process, Human Cargo aims to "expose and discuss" social and political issues. My attention was piqued, so I set off to the Nataional Arts Centre to see Human Cargo's latest work, Night.Michelle Montieth gives a subtle and understated performance as Gloria.
According to playwright and director Christopher Morris, Night was created by a collective of 17 individuals over three work shops -- a process that took six years. It's worth noting that despite a clearly collaborative approach, it is Morris who receives top billing as the writer of the play. Responsibility for the script in its final form, therefore, resides with him.
Night tells the story of a Torontonian museum worker, Daniella (Linnea Swan), who, at the request of an individual in a northern community, has taken it upon herself to return something of value to that community. Her effort is an attempt to reconcile a historical crime, but her naivety results in a series of culture shocks. Some of these are humorous (like her surprise at the price of a grilled cheese sandwich in the far north), others result in revelations that call into question her entire project and, by extension, the reconciliation efforts of well-intentioned, but equally naive, southerners in general.
There are some strong performances in the piece. Michelle Montieth gives a subtle and understated performance as Gloria, which has a lasting impact on the audience. It's a difficult part to play, and I was very impressed by her performance. Similarly 16-year-old Abbie Ootova's (Piuyuq) final monologue, a defiant call to action, resonates long after the show is finished. Mike Bernier is challenged with playing five separate characters, some of which are very good -- the Mayor, Piuyuq's father, and the Candyman. Unfortunately, on opening night, his portrayals of an RCMP officer and a teenager fell flat.
The script feels very much like the product of many hands over several years and Morris, as playwright, ultimately fails to give it cohesion. Many scenes feel tacked on haphazardly (possibly the product of previous incarnations), and this results in a jarring experience for the audience. At one point, the actors' spontaneous break out into a "Don't Worry Be Happy" dance number, which does not serve the narrative in any way.Morris's script reinforces the stereotypical vision of the North.
Morris, in his 'Playwright's Notes,' says: "The image of the Inuit, written and told by southerners, is that of a broken and socially dysfunctional society. Yet what is the Inuit perspective of life in the North . . . ?"
What is troubling about Morris's script is that it reinforces the stereotypical vision of the North. Night portrays a broken and socially dysfunctional society. All the children are abused by their fathers (with alcoholism being a contributing factor), suicide is rampant, and the mothers are either absent, or have been killed off. The closest thing to a positive character in the play is the disembodied voice of an unnamed radio announcer.
Is this really the northern perspective of life in the North? If so, it seems to be exactly the same as the southern perspective that Morris criticizes in his notes. Given the political intentions of the company and the production, this is a serious failing of the script.
Night is an original and collaborative Canadian work. Despite its failings, the play will undoubtedly spark some discussion about the portrayal of northern communities and the issues they face.
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Well said, Wayne!
Great review. You and I are very much on the same page.
Night gives insight into the circumstances and feelings of children and youth living with abusive and/or neglectful caregivers that drive some to commit suicide.
Well written as always, Wayne.
Not Totally in agreement with some of these comments
"I agree wholeheartedly that the play is in complete opposition to the sentiments expressed by the playwright is his notes. "