Review: HEARTLESS

by Lynn on January 8, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the AKI Studio (Daniels Spectrum) 585 Dundas St. E., Toronto presented by Favour the Brave Collective. Until Jan. 14, 2024.

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Written by Genvieve Adams

Directed by Tyler J. Seguin

Dramaturg, Keith Barker

Production design, by Kalina Popova

Sound by Maddie Bautista

Lighting designer, Imogen Wilson

Cast: Genevieve Adam

Montana Adams

Jordan M. Burns

Theresa Cutknife

Darcy Gerhart

Scott Garland

Brianne Tucker

Third in a trilogy of plays that take place in New France in the 1600s. Good, complex storytelling.  

The Story. Heartless by Genevieve Adam is the third part of her New France Trilogy. It takes place in New France in 1689. This is how the press information describes it:

“Two female Wendat warriors are looking for a runaway priest. A nun who sees visions and a young widow are looking for a lost city. A killer is looking for redemption. Their paths collide in a darkly funny tale of forgiveness, family and the terrible things that are done in the name of love.”

There are seven characters in the play and in one way or another they are connected. I won’t itemize all the relationships, but as an example: Anne is the mother of Marinette, the young widow. Her husband died in some accident when he was away from home, but his body was never found, just his canoe.  Anne is also the adoptive mother of Oheo, one of the female Wendat warriors and it’s Oheo who wants to find the runaway priest. Her cousin Sheauga is the other female Wendat warrior and is accompanying her cousin on this quest.  They are fearless warriors, accomplished and reveal different attitudes towards the white settlers etc. Sheauga has no use for them. Oheo is more forgiving because. Perhaps it’s because she is of mixed blood, or perhaps it also might be why she wants to find the priest.

The Production and comment. While Heartless is the third in the New France trilogy you do not need to be familiar with the first two parts. Theatre being so time consuming, it’s a long time between plays.

For example, Genevieve Adam wrote Deceitful Above All Thingsin 2015 for SummerWorks where I first saw it, and then it was remounted in 2017. https://slotkinletter.com/?s=deceitful+above+all+things

Sets up the premise of women coming to New France from the old world to start a new life between 1663-1673.

The second play, Dark Heart is a prequel of the first play and it takes place in 1661, so matters get complicated.

https://slotkinletter.com/?s=Dark+Heart

Characters in the first two plays are referenced in Heartless. Fortunately, Genevieve Adam is an inventive playwright and fine story-teller and each play stands on its own with its own story. For the most part, Heartless is a fascinating story, of different cultures and attitudes, the power of guilt, the independence of women in order to survive, redemption and love.

Genevieve Adam has set her plays in New France in the 1600s but her characters have a gritty vocabulary which is very modern especially the swearwords. But she also has vivid expressions for her Wendat characters. For example, Oheo, one of the female Wendat warriors speaks of a man who she loved in the past. She says: “his name is in my mouth.”  I loved that expression. It’s of a different time and culture and its meaning is so vividly clear no matter the time period.

Genevieve Adams has made her women tough, resourceful, independent, and vengeful if things don’t go properly. I found the way playwright Genevieve Adam depicted the attitudes of both cousins to be nuanced and subtle. Sheauga was adamantly anti-settler. Oheo is more forgiving perhaps because she is of mixed blood or it also might be why she wants to find the priest.

As I said, for the most part, Heartless is a fascinating story, certainly with regards to the title. So many things happen that are described as heartless—vengeance for example. Or a character is described as being heartless, as not having a heart in the center of their body.

But I found the character of Catherine, the nun to be problematic.  She sees visions (perhaps it’s that passion drink she is consuming). She is looking for the lost city of Hochelaga, the source of her people, now seemingly lost and her people, dead (it was a St. Lawrence Iroquois 16th century fortified village on or near Mount Royal in present-day Montreal). Unless I missed something in the dialogue, I thought Catherine was unconnected to the others, who are so connected. I found Catherine to be the weakest character. Is this Genevieve Adam trying to make a case for lost ancestors? Not sure. I don’t think the play would suffer without her.

We live in interesting times, where accusations of appropriation of voices is prevalent. So, I wonder if Genevieve Adam is appropriating the Indigenous voice through her Wendat characters of Oheo and Sheauga? Genevieve Adam’s bio does not mention if she is Indigenous. But her dramaturg is Keith Barker who is a member of the Metis nation of Ontario. He is the former Artistic Director of Native Earth. As dramaturg he would be responsible for the rigor in being true to any Indigenous reference as well as consulting in the overall process of helping the playwright realize her play.

The production design by Kalina Popova is simple and evocative: swaths of gold material in various formation hang down from the flies suggesting trees, foliage, different locations, etc.

Director Tyler J. Seguin does a good job of realizing the play with what is really a large cast with several locations. The direction is assured, efficient and keeps the pace moving without lagging. Generally, the acting is strong. Genevieve Adam plays Anne, an irreverent but confident woman, who has many secrets. She seems to control what is going on in the story. As the playwright she has written herself the best part.  She is funny, flirty and dangerous. Genevieve Adam plays these aspects with subtlety and never tips her hand until absolutely necessary. Theresa Cutknife plays Oheo who is anxious to find the priest for personal reasons. Her work is very moving.

I do wish that Montana Adams as Sheauga would speak up—she tends to mumble and speak softly. What Sheauga has to say is important…please speak up so that we can hear you. Overall, though I think the cast is accomplished and they tell the story with grace.

Favour the Brave Collective presents:

Plays until Jan. 14, 2024.

Running time: 75 minutes (no intermission)

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