Review: BEARS

by Lynn on January 25, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer


At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Matthew MacKenzie

Choreographed by Monica Dottor

Original Score by Noor Dean Musani

Environmental design by T. Erin Gruber

Costume design by Monica Dottor and Brianna Kolybabo

Cast: Sheldon Elter

Christine Sokaymoh Frederick

Dancers: Skye Demas

Lara Ebata

Zoë Glassman

Alida Kendell

Aimee Rushton

Rebecca Sadowski

Kendra Shorter

Gianna Vacirca

A vivid poem-drama, beautifully rendered in dance and acting by the astonishing Sheldon Elter who takes you into the intoxicating, fierce yet  fragile world of the Canadian forests, mountains and rivers, as a man on the run  becomes one with nature.


Did you get a ticket? Good.

The Story. In a stunning understatement Bears is described thus, in the program: “Bears is a dark comedy about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline.” It is so much more than that.

Floyd, a powerful bear of a man, is an Aboriginal man on the run from authorities. He had worked on the oil rigs cleaning up spills. The pay was great and he liked the work.  But as a man raised by his mother to appreciate everything nature had to offer (he loved tiger lilies and bears almost more than anything) seeing the damage a ‘simple’ oil spill could do to the environment was destroying his soul.

So he was on the run and fled from the Prairies, through the forests and back roads, over the Rockies, through swollen rivers jumping with spawning salmon to the ocean. Along the way he had mishaps but nature, animals, butterflies etc. saved him and he was aware of it.

The Performance. There is such power and grace in Sheldon Elter’s performance as Floyd. He speaks Matthew MacKenzie’s poem with sharp enunciation, emphasizing the onomatopoeic nature of the words. The words take us into a world that is fragrant, intoxicating and full of the noisy music of the nature through which Floyd is travelling. Floyd is so in tune with nature and bears in particular, that at one point man dissolves into animal—Floyd is the personification of a bear.

The quiet but profound presence of his late mother Mama Bear, is played with dignity and sensitivity by Christine Sokaymoh Frederick. His mother’s spirit visits Floyd when he needs her most.

As he makes his journey, Floyd has the protection of animals, insects, snow, water and the rush of life around him. At every turn an animal or insect will guide him. All of these creatures are realized by a chorus of eight dancers. They are choreographed by the hugely gifted Monica Dottor who realizes the humour, wit, irreverence and spiritual nature of every creature. In just one stunning instance Floyd has been submerged by snow in an avalanche. The chorus, in white costumes gently envelope him with their arms and there is the image of Floyd, buried in snow. Stunning.

T, Erin Gruber has created an environmental design that suggest snow, mountains, nature, and a wild but protective environment.

 Comment.   Matthew MacKenzie has written a vividly glorious poem-drama with beautifully placed bits of irreverent humour, that makes you fairly smell the fragrances that Floyd smelled on his journey. Phrases such as “blissfully oblivious” makes one hear the wind in trees, or the rush of water in a stream. MacKenzie has created a world where Floyd is protected by nature because he so respects it. But MacKenzie also shows the kindness of humanity. Twice Floyd is asked by passing strangers if he is ok, or needs help.

It’s the irresponsibility of the industry that creates the likes of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline with the possibility of disastrous oil spills that ultimately get our ire.

Bears is a beautifully written, realized homage to the Aboriginal’s respect for his/her environment and it’s true glory is that we are put right in that world as well. A stunning piece of theatre.

Produced by Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts and Punctuate! Theatre

Opened: Jan. 15, 2018.

Closes: Jan. 27, 2018.

Running Time: 75 glorious minutes.



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