by Lynn on February 22, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

Short Reviews: Peace River Country and Deceitful Above All Things

Peace River Country

At the Tarragon Theatre, Extra Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Maria Milisavijevic
Directed by Richard Rose
Set and costumes and video design by Curtis Wehrfritz
Sound by John Gzowski
Lighting by Jason Hand
Cast: Layne Coleman
Janet Laine Green
Sarah Sherman
Benjamin Sutherland

From the press release: “Inspired by the real-life story of Reverend Wiebo Ludwig and his decades-long battle with the Alberta oil and gas industry, Peace River Country follows the lives of a close-knit traditional family as their land, health, and way of life become increasingly threatened by mega-corporations and big government. How does a traditional Christian family living off the land in rural Alberta gain a national reputation as violent eco-terrorists? This fictional account of real-life events is a timely look at the ties of love and loyalty that bind a community.

The political and environmental impact of Canada’s energy industry, especially in Alberta, has been a central tenet of our national discourse for many years. Peace River Country offers an intimate glimpse into the experience of one close-knit religious community during the booming growth of Alberta’s oil industry, and the extremes one man went to keep his family’s way of life in tact.”

Sounds fascinating and I’d love to see that, but Maria Milisavijevic’s play is so lacking in necessary information it’s difficult to make sense of it all. The result is confusing if not frustrating. Thank heaven for Google from which I find: Reverend Ludwig created a farming community with his family and others in rural Alberta. Gas and oil companies created sour wells close to the community. Ludwig alleged that the wells leaked into the land and water contaminating both. He began protesting to the government from the early 1990s until his death in 2012 to no avail.

From the play we get the sense that it’s only the family of four who is involved. There is no community involvement which would have been helpful in establishing true tension. As it is the family squabbles about what to do. I think that’s limiting.

Milisavijevic’s creation of the family’s religious devotion and their adherence to the Bible as a guide adds an interesting touch.

In the play Ludwig is only known as Dad and Dad feels that his grandchild is stillborn because of the contaminated water. We don’t get a clear sense that an autopsy was requested to make sure. Dad’s herd of cattle dies, again, it’s assumed the contaminated grass and water are at fault, yet no vet is called to test the dead animals as to the reason. Later the family raises sheep for wool. If the land and water is contaminated, how is that possible? The family says it can’t drink the water yet again no tests are done to see if their concerns are valid.

Dad turns to violence to be heard by the outside world. Yet while the authorities and the Globe and Mail come to cover the violence, there is no hint that they investigates further to see if Ludwig had a case. Can this be right?

Curtis Wehrfritz’s spare set establishes the vegetation of the farm. The interior scenes are around a kitchen table. Simple and effective.

Layne Coleman is a stalwart Dad. He is proud, committed to his family and desperate to be heard. In contrast Janet Laine Green as Mom is grace and tenderness itself. She is dutiful and supportive of her husband and children. The production shifts back and forth in time sometimes focusing on Dad and Mom’s two young children Jemima (Sarah Sherman) and Joe (Benjamin Sutherland), or later when they are grown. Sometimes Sutherland plays the husband of the adult Jemima. With the subtlest of body language Sherman and Sutherland clearly establish who and what they are (young, mature, married, etc.) Director Richard Rose keeps a firm hand on the shifting times and establishing the urgency of the situation.

Milisavijevic’s previous play Abyss was much more successful in presenting its case and mystery and the result was gripping. Peace River Country however, is a disappointment.

Tarragon Theatre presents.

First performance: Feb. 7, 2017.
Saw it: Feb. 19, 2017.
Closes: March 19, 2017.
Cast: 4; 2 men, 2 women.
Running Time: 80 minutes.

Deceitful Above All Things

At the Factory Studio Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Genevieve Adam
Directed by Tanya Rintoul
Set by Nancy Anne Perrin
Costumes by Adriana Bogaard
Sound by Deanna Choi
Cast: Genevieve Adam
Imogen Grace
Madeleine Donohue
John Fitzgerald Jay
Joelle Peters
Brian Bisson
Garret C. Smith

This is a stylish remount of Genevieve Adam’s intriguing play that was first produced at Summerworks in 2015. I liked it then and like it now.

Adam writes of the young women who were sent by France to Quebec between 1663 and 1673 to help populate the land—i.e, marry and have children. Two such women were Anne Bilodeau and Marguerite Perron who met on the ship coming over from France. Anne was in love with a local Jesuit priest and unbeknownst to him became pregnant with his baby. Anne had to marry quickly and did, to a local farmer. Marguerite worked as Anne’s housekeeper. Marguerite meets Toussaint Langlois, a courier de bois. She should have been wary of him but Marguerite is fearless. She seduces Langlois as much as he seduces her.

Genevieve Adam writes of a wild, dangerous time in our history. The women had to be wily to survive. The men had to be brave. Adam nicely portrays the various social stigmas and attitudes towards indigenous people, single women, the church, the French and anything that was ‘other’. Her dialogue captures the times and yet is contemporary in attitudes that prevail today.

Tanya Rintoul directs with a sure hand. The sensuality between Marguerite and Langlois is both raw and compelling. Nancy Anne Perrin’s set is simple—two moveable benches. The floor is stained to suggest a splash of blood or the vibrant colours of the country.

Genevieve Adam plays Anna Bilodeau with an arrogance and confident flippancy. Imogen Grace is just as confident as Marguerite Perron, but in a quieter way. The whole cast is impressive.

Favour The Brave Collective and Storefront Arts Initiative present:

Opened: Feb. 16, 2017.
Saw it: Feb. 21, 2017.
Closes: Feb. 26, 2017.
Cast: 7; 3 men, 4 women
Running Time: 80 minutes.

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