Review: Mokatek and the Missing Star, part of the Wee Festival

by Lynn on May 16, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Assembly Hall, 1 Colonel Samuel Smith Park Dr., Etobicoke, Ont.

Created by Ondinnok Theatre (Montreal) and Vox Theatre (Ottawa)

Author and interpreter, Dave Jenniss

Translated into English by Mishka Lavigne

Directed by Pier Rodier

Singer and musician, Élise Boucher-DeGonzague

Scenographer, Julie-Christina Picher

Lighting by Chantal Labonté

Puppet and stage props by Manon Doran and Pier Rodier

Soundtrack designer, Michel DeMars

Creative costume of Pokjinskwes, Danielle Boucher

Mokatek and the Missing Star is a magical piece of theatre weaving Indigenous story-telling, legend, the power of nature and belief in oneself. It’s told through puppetry, music, dance and various objects that captivate the imagination.

From the press information: “For little Mokatek, counting the stars to fall asleep every night is a real pleasure. He likes to tell his days to the one that shines the most in the sky, the North Star. At bedtime, the night of the summer solstice, the star of the North is gone, it has disappeared. This is the beginning of an initiatory journey to find the brilliant star.”

After taking off their shoes, the audience enters a large gossamer tent. The young ones sit on rugs and the older folks sit on benches. There are birch tree stumps around the space. There is a fire pit in the middle of the space with a ‘tee-pee’ of twigs positioned above the ‘fire.’ Nine large balls of cotton batten are suspended in the air, representing the planets. A section of stars is illuminated. The audience is welcomed in song and drumming by Élise Boucher-DeGonzague. I love the ceremony of that.

Dave Jenniss tells the story in English and the First Nations languages of the Abenakis and the Anishinabek in easy to follow references. He hits two stones together a few times.  He takes two twigs and says their names in one of the languages. He piles them one on top of the other. He adds a hunk of birch, gives the First Nations name and adds that to the pile of twigs. Then he hits the two stones a few times over the twigs, creating a spark, resulting in a small ‘fire’. Magic.

Mokatek is a puppet sensitively manipulated and voiced by Jenniss. Mokatek considers the North Star his only friend and is desperate to find him. He is aided by a crow (another puppet) that takes Mokatek on a flying journey over the forest. He is told to watch out for the bear’s foot prints and when Mokatek hears the bear coming he hides. Two large paws appear from out among the birch ‘trees’. Does one need more to suggest a bear? No, I didn’t think so. Jenniss wears the paws. He also wears a beanie hat with bear ears that pop out. The bear sniffs around, eats berries, and leaves. Mokatek comes out from his hiding place, braver now and he eats the berries as well. He meets an ancient fish who represents the great sturgeon and ancestors; there is a moose as well on Mokatek’s  journey.

Eventually Mokatek does re-discover his friend the North Star and in doing that he has completed his journey of discovery; of the wind, water, air, birds, animals and himself.

The writing of the piece is beautifully poetic. Dave Jenniss is nimble and elegant in his movement, his manipulation of the puppet of Mokatek and in ‘playing’ of the animals. It’s beautifully directed by Pier Rodier with economy and a touch of impishness. Just initially showing the huge paws of the bear through the trees is inspired.  The puppets of the fish and the moose are made of birch bits in which the bark is peeling. The result is that we are looking at something from antiquity, which is the point. I love that the fish (great sturgeon) has a bit of green foliage in its mouth.

Mokatek and the Missing Star is a wonderfully imaginative telling of a story of discovery, friendship, determination and maturing. It’s told with sensitivity and great imagination.

The two remaining shows May 16 are in French at 10:00 am and 11:30 am.

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