by Lynn on April 3, 2010

in Archive,Picks & Pans

Last year an ambitious theatre project was created called THE MILL, that would eventually involve four full length plays, all dealing with a mill in rural Ontario over several hundred years. Our theatre critic, Lynn Slotkin saw the first two plays last year, noting that they were so spooky that the hairs on the back of your neck were spiked. The third play in the series opened over the weekend and Lynn is here to tell us if her neck hairs are still standing on end.

Hello Lynn. Give us a little back ground about this project.

The idea came from Daryl Cloran, Artistic director of THEATREFRONT, a bold, spunky theatre company, and Matthew MacFadzean, an inventive playwright. They wanted to present a Canadian story over four plays, written by four playwrights, all dealing with a mill town in rural Ontario under the umbrella title of THE MILL.

The plays so far are: NOW WE ARE BRODY and, THE HURON BRIDE which take place in The 1800s. THE WOODS which takes place in 1646 and opened this weekend. And the project will conclude next season with the last part, which takes place in the future.

The first three plays are spooky, full of foreboding and one very angry ghost who is common to all of them.

What’s the story of THE WOODS?

It’s written by Tara Beagan a gifted playwright and a member of First Nations, so those aspects of the story of THE WOODS are vivid.

It’s 1646, in New France. This is before the MILL is built. An aboriginal village has been destroyed by disease and violence and all the natives are dead except for two people: Marie and her daughter Lyca. Marie is aboriginal but was given the name by the Jesuits and Europeans (who brought disease that destroyed her village). She was raped and the result is her blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter Lyca, now about 12 years old.

One day Charles appears, a scientist, who was separated two years ago from his party of Europeans who were there to claim the land. He’s desperate, lonely and lost. He doesn’t understand Marie and Lyca because they don’t speak English, and he doesn’t speak their language.

Lyca shows her protective spirit by whacking Charles in the leg with an axe. He’s their prisoner, but over time Marie and Charles begin to understand each other and a close relationship forms. This doesn’t sit well at all with Lyca.

Terrible things happen and so the spooky story continues.

How does THE WOODS do in relations to the other two plays?

We certainly get a sense of the First Nations traditions.

And playwright Tara Beagan creates a vivid picture of Marie and her daughter Lyca. Lyca especially is arresting. She is not just a malevolent spirit in the other plays trying to protect the memory of her village. We see that she was a malevolent person to begin with. Of the three plays so far, I found THE WOODS to be a little thin, story-wise.

Much of the production is taken up with Ryan Hollyman as Charles gasping and grunting in pain because of his axe wound, or desperate to be understood. There is the same kind heightened emotion from Michelle Latimer as Marie and Holly Lewis as Lyca, trying to cope with this stranger. These are good actors, it’s just that I found what they had to act, almost a one note of angst and desperation.

That said, director Sarah Garton Stanley impressively creates the darkness and stillness of the woods by having actors play trees, holding branches among other aspects of the story.

And Richard Feren’s sound and music works a treat in adding to that foreboding, brooding atmosphere.

The plays of THE MILL don’t seem to be presented in chronological order. Is that a problem in comprehension?

No, because each play stands alone and is clear on its own terms. If anything, the plays seem to be presented in reverse chronological order and in a perverse way, it makes the plays more intriguing as new historical revelations are revealed.

With THE WOODS we realize this is where the First Nations village perished so the land is in fact a cemetery.

In the two other plays, the MILL is built on this land and is therefore haunted, and sometimes characters don’t know why. I think it adds to the atmosphere of the group of plays that they not be seen in chronological order, that the facts and reasons sneak up on you.

The first two plays will be presented from March 29 to April 2, so you can see all three. The Mill is a huge project and worth our attention.

THE WOODS plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until April 3. The theatre is wheelchair accessible.