The Mill and the Bride for the Brave

michelle monteith, maev beaty, holly lewis
My heart was racing into my throat as my skin crawled and my whole body tensed. I buried my head beneath the hood to my sweatshirt, resisting the urge to curl up into a very small little ball, clenching my jaw and peeking out slightly in anticipation of the horrid unknown culmination that had been building and creaking and creepily surging forth for the past hour. I was at the Tank House Theatre and I was terrified.
The Mill was conceived by Theatrefront Artistic Director Daryl Cloran and playwright Matthew MacFadzean five years ago as a means to create a theatrical story that would be told over a series of plays; a pioneer story with the power to illuminate a specific moment of Canadian history. The Mill- Part II: The Huron Bride was written by Hannah Moscovitch and directed by Christian Barry and plays at the Young Centre for the Arts October 20th, 21st, 23rd and 24th at 8pm. The Huron Bride tells the story of Hazel Sheehan, an industrious Irish immigrant who comes to work at James MacGonigal’s mill and soon uncovers the horrific secrets buried beneath its floorboards.
It could be argued that Moscovitch and Barry use all the old tricks in the book to create this intensely riveting piece of theatre, but they use every convention of the Gothic, ghostly genre to astonishingly brilliant effect. The set by Gillian Gallow is a beautiful wooden, rustic structure which suggests an element of distinction, yet remains unmistakably ominous. Figures shrouded in shadows pop up from various caverns which contributes to the sense that the world is a permeable one between the dead and the living and one is never quite sure on which side she is walking. Christian Barry is meticulous in his ability to startle his audience with crisp lighting cues, haunting fiddle music, an eerie soundscape by Richard Feren and particularly well placed rattles, knocks, thuds and bumps that cause audience members to jolt in their seats. Moscovitch has managed to infuse this haunted world with a distinct element of beauty and her characters are as captivating as they are creepy. I find that Moscovitch tends to write with a vibrant, dominant voice which becomes a powerful instrument through which her plays are experienced; indeed, her language almost emerges as its own character in the piece. In The Huron Bride, however, Moscovitch’s language, still as vivid and rich as ever, honours the genre she works in, as it becomes overshadowed by the story she is telling. This allows the play to depend more on light, sound, and terrifying silences to draw the audience into its world.
The performances in The Huron Bride are particularly fascinating and extraordinary. Every one of the characters has his or her own distinct eeriness which constantly keeps the audience off-kilter and waiting, in anticipation, for some ghastly revelation. Ryan Hollyman plays James MacGonigal with an earthly passion that is continually interrupted by a shadow of disquiet that rolls across his consciousness. Eric Goulem provides pitch-perfect comic relief with Alexandre Martiniques, the French Catholic itching to take a tumble into sin with the pious Rebecca Jessup. Maev Beaty plays Rebecca, wound tighter than a spring, with resolute iciness, and she has incredible scenes with Michelle Monteith’s Hazel during which the tension is built to such intense thickness, it is a wonder that it doesn’t materialize into a field of dense shrubbery to bury them both. She also has moments of comic genius, as she sits prattling with precise rhythm and natural panache; relaying verbatim every ounce of gossip she has overheard from “town.” Holly Lewis gives a deeply disturbing performance as Lyca, the strange foundling child who can speak “Indian Talk.” Lewis knows how to elicit dread in her audience with every slight movement of her body. Her Lyca is absolutely chilling. And then there is Michelle Monteith. I have never seen another actor who inhabits her characters so perfectly, so entirely, and so wholly, as though each one were custom tailored to her like a glove. She gives a beautiful heartfelt performance as Hazel Sheehan with an absolutely perfect, almost mesmerizing, Irish accent.
In all The Mill: Part II: The Huron Bride was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had at the theatre. My entire body was engaged in a way that theatre seldom elicits, as I found myself burrowing for cover as though I were watching a film. There are those who say that horror cannot be done onstage (despite the fact that the genre developed out of the houses of Grand Guignol); happily, I think that The Huron Bride is the perfect example of a theatrical performance that disproves this sentiment. The theatre does have the ability to captivate and to elicit a sense of fear and revulsion in its audience, as much as any of the newest cinematic technology. The theatre is a ghost’s playground, after all, a place where the living reenact the deeds of the dead and where performances disappear and fade into oblivion, leaving only their shadows behind in creaky, dark, dusty theatres. As actors we die, and then, like Lyca, we rise again to die tomorrow. We too are unsettled souls, which is perhaps why it is such a liberating and electric experience for us to be frightened out of our wits as we sit, perfectly safe, in a seat at the theatre.
The Mill: Part II: The Huron Bride plays at the Young Centre for the Arts (55 Mill Street) October 21st, 23rd, and 24th at 8pm. Tickets are as low as $5.00 for Student or CAEA Rush (arrive at the theatre 30-60 minutes in advance for cash-only rush seats). Ordinary ticket prices are $35.00. The Mill Part I: Now We Are Brody (written by Matthew MacFadzean and directed by Daryl Cloran) plays at the Young Centre for the Arts October 22nd at 8pm and October 24th at 2pm. For more information visit http://www.youngcentre.ca/ or call 416.866.8666.

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