by Lynn on February 8, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming on demand from Young People’s Theatre, until February 21.

Written and directed by Hélène Ducharme

Translators: Leanna Brodie, Jon Lachlan Stewart, Maurice Roy

Set design and props by Normand Blair

Music/Sound by Stéphan Côté, Nathalie Cord, Aboulaye Kané

Puppets and masks by Jean Cummings, Sylvain Racine, Claude Rodrigue

Shadow Theatre, Marcelle Hudon et Jean Cummings

Costumes by Deane Lavoie

Lighting by Valèrie Bourque and Patricia Daigneault

Video production: Sylvie-Ann Paré and Félix Lajeunness-Guy

Cast: Marco Collin

Stéphan Coté

Sharon James

Jon Lachlan Stewart

For children 5-9 years old.

Three folk tales reflecting three different cultures presented for children.

The three folk tales are presented as a presentation of an old-fashioned travelling band of performers. They travel from town to town by a colourful cart which holds their props, masks, puppets and other paraphernalia needed for their performances.

This troupe of players puts a modern twist to the presentation by acknowledging the pandemic that closed theatres, weighed us down and ‘hugging friends and family was not allowed.’ But now they are joyfully singing that the theatre is back and alive. The group of actors (Marco Collin, Sharon James, Jon Lachlan Stewart and Stéphan Coté (if viewing in French) engage with their ‘streamed’ audience as if they are present in person. They are asked to sit close to the performing circle but making sure they are separated by two meters to keep everybody safe. A lovely touch of writer/director Hélène Ducharme to make the audience feel as if they are engaged in the process. Four large rocks are arranged around the circle.

Each story-teller references a traditional stick used to tell the story. Marco Collin brings out a Haudenosaunee Talking Stick and lays it on the boundary of the circle. It’s used in Indigenous ceremonies to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to speak and understood is that everyone else will listen carefully to what is being said. Sharon James lays down a Griot stick. A Griot is a person who knows ‘all the stories’ in the cultures of West Africa. Jon Lachlan Stewart brings out a ‘Devil’s Stick’ to reference his Québécois story.  


This is a folk tale from West Africa performed by Sharon James.

She dresses in a traditional billowy robe with an ornate covering of her hair. She says she is the village Griot, the holder of all the stories. She asks the audience if they will lend her their ears. She asks to ‘throw them here’ and she moves to catch them, thus engaging the ‘unseen’ audience.

She talks of a time when the Sun, the Earth and the whole world lived in harmony. One day a Baobab Tree’s roots touched the Earth and the heart of the Earth fell in love. They had four children. They were happy, but the Sun was jealous of this joy and wanted the children. The Earth and the Baobab Tree refused. The Sun raged, lost its heart and got even by shining on the Earth relentlessly. Everything caked dry. The Baobab Tree and the Earth wept into the ground so the Sun could not see and the water from the tears went deep into the ground. One day an egg fell from the tree and inside was a baby who would become a child who would unite all concerned by finding the secret to release the water below.

Sharon James tells this intricate, delicate story with a vivid sense of performance. She is graceful when manipulating the baby puppet and the puppet of the young child the baby would grow into. Sharon James’ sense of pacing, nuance, and understatement never tips her hand in telling the story. She evokes the West African traditions and making connections to Western philosophy and religion is an easy bridge.

Kudos to Jean Cummings, Sylvain Racine, Claude Rodrigue for the creation of the puppets. The puppets gleamed life, innocence and hope. At the end, the buoyant Sharon James gave the young audience back their ears. Lovely.

Otjiera and the Fasting Ceremony

The story is of the Mohawk nation and is told by Marco Collin who is of Innu heritage.

Marco Collin wears a traditional shirt, vest, roomy pants that end above the ankle and moccasins. He welcomes the audience to the circle in the Long House. He urges the audience to be careful of the stones (rocks) around the edge because they are sacred. He welcomes the audience as if they are Indigenous people, noting that one person in the audience does not wear ‘war paint’ and therefore peace is established. To another he is glad he adopted a young girl as his sister and he will not giver her back to her tribe. He urges people to bring ‘a feather from your first partridge’. He is describing Mohawk traditions and peaceful decisions that create harmony. He welcomes children and toddlers to the circle and the story telling because they will learn.

He puts on a head covering that suggests a wolf or other revered animal. He stands behind a drum wrapped in fur and from behind him he brings out a hand puppet of Otjiera. It’s Otjiera’s 12th birthday and he is being prepared for the Fasting Ceremony to mark his coming of age in the Mohawk tradition. Otjiera must go to the Fasting Camp by himself, start a fire and not sleep, eat or drink for two night and three days, until the Great Bear comes to him in a dream to tell him his destiny. One can figure that without sleeping or eating for that long Otjiera would imagine or hallucinate seeing the great spirit.

Otjiera is confident, perhaps to arrogance, that his destiny is to be the greatest leader of his people. He rebuffs what he believes are tricks of his imagination when he becomes so tired that he imagines he is visited by the specters of various animals. He is faced with this thought of arrogance until his destiny is described. What happens does seem more powerful and steadfastly important than being the greatest leader of his people. The otherworldly realm meets the celestial for a true harmonious destiny.

Marco Collin tells the story with conviction and respect. His working of the puppet of Otjiera creates a boy with confidence, a touch of hubris and ultimately the light that is needed to lead his people and all others as well.

Again, the Mohawk tradition of a coming-of-age story can be applied to so many other cultures that have something similar.

The Bewitched Canoe/La Chasse-galerie   

This Québécois folk tale is told by Jon Lachlan Stewart. He wears a long coat of red and black squares, high collar, a wide sash at the waist, sturdy pants and boots. He quickly establishes that old Quebec was a place of many churches. Jon Lachlan Stewart brings out many rods with spires at the top representing the many churches. Religion was very strong. Without saying it he was referring to the Catholic Church.

The story is set on New Year’s Eve, 1899 in a logging camp far from Montreal or Quebec City. Seven loggers longed to go home to Montreal to see their wives and girlfriends but the distance was too great to get there. Until…. Burt, a wild, irreverent man arranges for a magic canoe to sail over the land with seven loggers in side, to take them to their wives and sweethearts to celebrate the new century. Burt did it by making a deal with the devil. The loggers would see their loved ones but they had to promise not to swear, take the Lord’s name in vain or hit a Church spire with the canoe. If they broke any of these conditions their souls would be damned for eternity.  

Jon Lachlan Stewart is an energetic story-teller. His puppets fit on his fingers. Only Burt’s face fit over one finger, another character’s face fit on another. The canoe with the seven loggers in it was carried aloft by Jon Lachlan Stewart who also flicked a switch on the boat that looked like the men were rowing.

It is soon clear that these men are going to a house known as Rose La Tulip’s. Hardly a place for their wives and one wonders about the girlfriends.

This version of The Bewitched Canoe/La Chasse-galerie is not to be confused with the rousing musical of a few years ago of La Chasse-galerie that played at the Storefront Theatre and later Soulpepper. While the premise is the same, this is the ‘diminutive’ version of it.

I must confess that I thought that this Québécois folk tale seemed a bit too risqué and mature for the age group of 5-9 year olds. Perhaps it’s meant for their parents.

On the whole I thought the different cultures were established with care and detail. As with all stories of different cultures they showed the many similarities we can recognize in our own cultures as well as others.

Produced by Théâtre Motus in association with Young People’s Theatre

Available on demand until, Feb. 21, 2022

Running time: approx. 60 minutes.

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