At the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor St. W., Toronto, Ont.
Created by the Red One Theatre Collective
Directed by Tyrone Savage
Choreographed by Ashleigh Powell
Composer/ Lyricist/Musical Director, James Smith
Set by Bronwen Lily, John Leberg
Costumes by Holly Lloyd
Lighting by Melissa Joakim
Puppet Master/Puppeteer, Daniel Briere
Cast: Nathan Carroll
Sam Al Esai
This is a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, whiskey-soaked joy of a show. The story grabs you immediately. The original music and choreography performed by a sterling cast and band are terrific.
The Story. Imagine good old-fashioned storytelling set in a pub in old Montreal on New Year’s Eve. The story is about four woodswomen who are working deep in the Quebec forest struggling to meet their quota of chopped trees. They are: ballsy Michelle, pious Alexandra, meek with a strong streak Toba and tenacious Leigh-La. They all dream of going to Montreal to meet their lovers but of course can’t go because it’s so far and they are snowed in. Two of the women seem have boyfriends with the same name, same job and same description. Odd, eh?
But then a mysterious man named Damien appears—he has been wandering in the woods, lost and without food etc,– and makes them an offer they can’t refuse, and should have. He will grant them their wish of going to Montreal for New Year’s Eve, by giving them a magical flying canoe (the Chasse-Galerie of the title) that will fly them to Montreal on three conditions, one of which is no swearing at all. That’s impossible—certainly with Michelle, but they will try. I won’t tell you the other two—you will find out when you see the show. If they fail to adhere to the three conditions he gets their souls in exchange.
This is compelling story-telling and is part of French-Canadian lore. Originally they were four woodsmen—but this is 2015 so director Tyrone Savage and the Red One Theatre Collective created a story for our time—four women are chopping trees. The story grabs you immediately. These women are hard-working, hard-playing and each has their own charm. But at every turn there is temptation and liquor and temptation and whiskey and, well you get the picture.
If the devil is involved it sounds like serious stuff you say? Something like philosophy of the soul? It takes place on New Year’s Eve, in a pub in old Montreal. There is no chance of this being deep and serious.
The Production. With a cast of 13 that includes the band that is totally engaged in the story-telling The Chasse-Galerie is huge undertaking. Director Tyrone Savage said that this whole production was mounted in one month. Astonishing.
You walk into the Storefront Theatre and the bar is waiting for you. The playing space is open with chairs for the audience along both walls. The action happens in the middle of the space with the audience watching from each side of the room. The band is at one end and a few musicians are at the other end.
While we wait for the show to start we are put in the toe-tapping mood by recorded music that plays, a mix of Acadian and Quebec music. The music is played by De Temps Anton, Vishtèn and Andre Brunet. The music is pulsing, throbbing, and intoxicating.
Tyrone Savage stages his large cast with efficiency, economy and maximum effect. The women are both friends and rivals at times but there is a camaraderie that is strong. Tyrone Savage’s direction brings that out as well. And while Savage says this is a collaborative affair, he had to have the vision first to put this in place. The set by Bronwen Lily and John Leberg, and certainly the suggestion of the flying canoe, is inspired. To add to the sense of flying Daniel Briere’s puppets and the animation that goes with them adds to the whimsy of the four women flying in a canoe to Montreal.
The whole cast is wonderful but special mention should be made of the four woodswomen: Tess Benger, Kat Letwin, Dana Puddicombe and Shaina Silver-Baird illuminate their characters with attention to both the broad strokes and the detail. They are all funny, charming, and tough-minded. They give Damien, played with shifty craftiness by Jonas Widdifield, four challenges he didn’t count on.
The writing is smart, tight and hilarious. A wizard named James Smith wrote the music and the lyrics that delves deep into the characters and that includes Damien that devil. He has a gleefully good time leading the audience in a song composed of various swearwords, leading the four ladies deeper into temptation.
Ashleigh Powell has created the intoxicating, rousing choreography. With all that foot-stomping of the cast and the bopping to the beat of the audience, it’s a wonder the didn’t join in the dancing.
Comment. The Red One Theatre Collective continues to create some of Toronto’s most provocative theatre. The Chasse-Galerie is their first original musical and they hope to make it a yearly event. Wonderful. Now if only these songs were recorded on a CD and sold at every performance, that would make it all perfect.
Presented by the Red One Theatre Collective.
Opened: December 17, 2015.
Plays to: December 22. Re-opens Dec. 28 until Dec. 31.
Cast: 13: 7 men, 6 women.
Running Time: two hours with an intermission to buy drinks.