ryan hollyman as charles and michelle latimer
as marie in the mill (part three): the woods.
photo by: chris gallow
In her Playwright’s Notes for Theatrefront’s The Mill Part Three: The Woods, playing at the Tank House Theatre at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until April 3rd, 2010 Tara Beagan writes, “… the proposal put forth by Matthew (MacFadzean)… meant that it would take a village to raise this series- this child. From our earliest days, we spoke of Canada as an acne-prone teenager, beautiful and flawed and though not yet fully realized, far from newborn. Old enough to know better and young enough to make good of its past wrongs.” In The Woods we can see vivid reflections of the Canadian experience in Lyca, the wild demon-child from Now We Are Brody and The Huron Bride. She is the child that the village will raise with all her untamed naiveté, her deeply misunderstood beliefs and perspectives and the difficulty she has in reconciling the roots and the land of the mother who raised her with the tribe of intruders, with their own strange customs, that the father she has never known belongs to.
The Woods takes us back to 1640, before the mill that is so central to the two previous plays in the series was built and it centers on Lyca and her relationship with her mother, Marie, revealing how and why she comes to haunt the land that was once her home. Marie and Lyca belong to the Wendat Nation and the play follows their journey as they unexpectedly find themselves caring for a European man named Charles, a French historian, after Lyca, who perceives him as a threat and an unwanted and inferior stranger, strikes him in the leg with an axe. Marie demonstrates a cautious openness toward Charles and a willingness to embrace his humanity despite the fact that they speak different languages and they have strikingly different traditions and lifestyles. Marie is even prepared to judge Charles as an individual and on his own actions even though certain bands of European settlers have been ravaging Native communities, raping and killing their people and stealing their land and resources. Lyca is far more guarded, unforgiving and deeply prejudice against all Europeans, dismissing them as stupid, lying savages and even identifying them as “Wendigo,” a malevolent cannibalistic spirit that was believed could possess human beings. As the play progresses Tara Beagan shows us that it is the fear of the unknown and the desire to protect the sanctity of familiarity that makes forging a relationship between the Wendat people and the European settles intensely complex and dangerous.
Beagan uses modern speech to capture the spirit of the lovely relationship and friendship between twelve year old Lyca and her beloved mother. There is always a poetic element to Lyca, one which is mirrored nicely in the other plays. Words and language are incredibly important in this play, as Marie tells Lyca, “words have power” and indeed, we vividly see how vulnerable Charles is because he doesn’t “speak whatever it is [they] are speaking.” At the same time, language evolves from experience, and Lyca realizes that she does not know the proper grammatical structure even in her own language when referring to a man because she has spent her entire life in the company of only her mother. For this reason Beagan has her constructing sentences such as “I don’t want his here,” which poignantly highlights that Lyca, although stubborn and precocious, still has much to learn of the world.
Sarah Garton Stanley directs The Woods, which is not at all as frightening as Now We Are Brody and The Huron Bride, but it still provides powerful imagery that evokes an intricate web of contradictions and historical conundrums that can be just as haunting. Stanley uses the actors playing smaller roles to also play trees, which creates a nice sense of snugness for Lyca and Marie amid the image of Canada’s sprawling forests, while also suggesting that although they are continually surrounded by the comforts of nature; even in the trees exists the rustling seeds of change. Ryan Hollyman gives a lovely performance as Charles, filled with a genuine, diffident charm but also quick to panic and flail about with uncertain helplessness. Michelle Latimer is wonderfully likeable as Marie, a mother filled with wisdom and heart, and represents perfectly our collective idealization of the past. Frank Cox-O’Connell, Eric Goulem and Richard Greenblatt create a wonderful sense of trepidation as the Europeans whose good intentions we know will prove to be utterly disastrous in the future and Michelle Monteith captures perfectly how completely oblivious the Europeans are to the validity of any way of life beyond their own. Holly Lewis is undoubtedly the star of this piece as Lyca. She transforms into this twelve year old child with such brilliant dexterity it is hard to believe that Lewis is really a grown woman with a child of her own. Lyca springs forth from this story because she is so richly complex, so fascinating and filled with contradiction and subtext and Lewis has such command and understanding of her character that the audience is able to feel a strong affinity and real affection for Lyca, while also being repulsed by her.
The Woods, as Tara Beagan alludes to in her Playwright’s Notes, reminds us that we all have blood on our hands and it is out of this blood, and through the mixing of blood, that Lyca emerges and she is where the mill begins. From this wood, from this blood, from the child the village raises, our home evolves and it, Canada, in all its messy beauty and imperfections, is a home we share together.
The Woods plays at The Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill Street) until April 3rd, 2010. For tickets and more information please visit this website: http://www.youngcentre.ca/.