by Lynn on March 4, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Young People’s Theater, Toronto, Ont. Playing until April, 2, 2023.

Based on the book by Chris Hadfield and Kate Fillion

Adapted by Jim Millan and Ian MacIntyre

Directed by Jim Millan

Sets and costumes by Anna Treusch

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound design and composer, Deanna H. Choi

Video designer, Daniele Guevara

Cast: Hannah Forest Briand

Aurora Browne

Craig Lauzon

Ziska Louis

Shaquille Pottinger

Evelyn Wiebe

A sweet play about a nine-year-old boy who wants to be an astronaut but ironically, is afraid of the dark. A play about facing your fears in a production bursting with colour and energy.

The Story. The Darkest Dark is about a nine-year-old boy named Chris who is afraid of the dark and struggles to overcome it. The irony is that Chris loves everything to do with space and wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. And he did because Chris is Chris Hadfield Canada’s own astronaut.

It’s the summer of 1969. Chris, his older sister Cindy and their parents are at their cottage on Stag Island. They are all preparing to watch the moon landing that will happen in July. The problem for Chris is that he can’t sleep because he is bedeviled with being afraid of the dark. He was afraid of the dark when going to bed in the city and seemed to get a handle on it. But that fear comes back to him in the country. He imagines every shadow and noise to be some kind of danger or monster. His mother gave him a bell to ring if something scared him as he lay in bed. He rang it all the time. His parents were understanding and compassionate. His sister was not. It got so that one of the parents had to sleep with Chris to get him to calm down, relax and slumber. That meant his parents didn’t get much sleep at all.

He did have two friends on the island—Herbie and Jane– who shared his adventures. They had their own issues. In their way they help each other to resolve their issues.

They are taking canoe lessons with a young instructor named Keith—who is a hippy—and his relaxed, philosophical attitude towards life helps them all face their demons and move on. I guess it’s always the way—you need someone completely separate from family and friends to get a clear idea of how to solve the problem.

The Production. The play, The Darkest Dark is based on Chris Hadfield’s kid’s book “The Darkest Dark”. It’s been adapted for the stage specifically for Young People’s Theatre by Jim Millan and Ian MacIntyre.

I think the adaptation is sweet, whimsical, informative in illuminating Chris’s (Ziska Louis) curiosity about space, knowledge of rockets, the workings of space ships, and all manner of stuff in the heavens. I love that the adaptors illuminated Chris’s parents’ kindness and understanding. The parents kiss him good night, especially his father.

As Chris, Ziska Louis is full of curiosity, energy, determination, and concern about his on-going problems of facing his demons in the dark. When Chris is just a kid playing with his friends, he is confident, in control, energetic, creative—he makes all sorts of space-helmets and other necessities and creates many space games that challenge and keep them forward thinking. Chris is a natural born leader.

Aurora Browne plays Chris’s mother, with kindness, compassion for his issues, but at times her consideration wanes. She is a lovely presence as the mother, but with a hint of exasperation. As Chris’s Dad, Craig Lauzon is caring, understanding, and he too shows compassion for this young kid who is terrified at night. He is never chiding or ‘critical’ but always tries to find a gentle way to get Chris to change his behaviour.

Jim Millan’s direction is lively, energetic, poignant, funny and smart. He keeps the pace up but also illuminates exquisitely intimate moments, in particular those with Craig Lauzon as Chris’s Dad was loving and kind, trying to convince Craig to calm down and sleep so he would be well rested for his friends.

It’s always interesting to see a show with the audience it was meant for—kids—young teens. There were moments when the kids fidgeted—always a true marker that their attention was waning. But there were moments that also got them jumping out of their seats, so I guess it evens out.

Anna Treusch’s colourful, neon-vibrant looking set is one long dazzle and that goes for her costumes as well. Interspersed are Daniele Guevara videos/newsreels of the times to give it an authentic flavour. Certainly seeing the newsreel of Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon for the first time was moving for those who were alive to see it firsthand in 1969. And there are videos of Chris Hadfield going into his spaceship.   

Comment. If there is a moral to this show, it’s that we all must have dreams of what we want to become etc.  And we must do everything to make our dreams come true, no matter the difficulty.

Young People’s Theatre

Plays until April 2, 2023.

Running time: 70 minutes

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