Eep and Coo and the Island That Flew, which plays through July 11th, 2015 at Toronto Fringe’s Fringe Kids Festival, is like watching Anne of Green Gables “get up” a concert.
Ruthie Pykta-Jones plays an exuberant, solemnly over-dramatic, self-deprecating young girl with a heart of gold, not unlike Anne Shirley, who is trying everything in her power to tell, perfectly, the myth of the island of Potentia and the two birds who save it from the flood. Yet, she is unsure how best to narrate it, often adopting a false “Voice of God” persona, which she can’t sustain, and allowing her anxiety about adhering to an archaic idea of the storyteller to lead her far astray from the plot.
There are a lot really great ideas in this play. I love the concept of a young girl feeling trapped by the one connotation she has with who is able to be the myth-maker, (the wizened old man with the beard who represents the patriarchy of human history), but her inability to be that person, because she is a vivacious, sweet young girl, and that fills her with self-doubt. I love that the myth alludes to climate change and its impact on Eep and Coo, and that in order to save their island (and their own lives) these birds who have little in common and speak different languages, must find a way to come together, work together, trust one another and communicate with each other.
There is room here for both of these concepts to be clarified and tightened up a bit, especially for the benefit of the younger target audience. It took too many attempts for our young narrator to act as the wise old man before she came into her own, as well there are detours and exposition in Eep and Coo’s story that undermine the urgency that builds the momentum of the stakes of flood. These can be streamlined, which will make both concepts easier to follow. Also, I was curious about the other Stay Birds and Away Birds and the various accents that Gabriela Petrov and Alexandra Montagnese used for them. In a play where the disparity of language is such an important plot point, wouldn’t all the birds indigenous to the island have the same accent and all the migratory birds in the small flock also have the same accent?
The Coo and Eep puppets work the best, being large enough that they are able to come alive and take on their own personality. We loose that animation in the tiny puppets. Also, there are issues with the sight lines for Petrov and Montagnese when they are behind the curtain manipulating the puppets, as we often can see the tops of their heads in the back row, which ruins the illusion.
In all, it’s Pykta-Jones’ delightful exuberance that best sells this play. You want her to succeed from the moment she begins, and I hope she and Montages and Petrov keep working on this play, because I think it has the potential to impart two important messages in an immediate and beautiful way.
TWISI FRINGE RATING:
eep and coo and the island that flew plays at the George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Place) at the following times: