Saw the play for the last time last night then closed the Epicure with Jonathan Fisher, the excellent Anishinaabe actor who plays Itslk, with audience members coming up to the table and chatting to us. A most pleasant way to pass the time.
Here’s another review, somewhat more thoughtful and appreciative of Severn as an actress.
The virtue of Glover’s novel and of Thompson’s adaptation is its satire. When Elle is rescued she notes that Portuguese and Basque fishermen have been coming to Canada long before the French “discovered” it and claimed it for their own. That Elle survives longer in the wilderness than the French government-supported colony is itself a critique of colonists’ inability to adapt and learn from their surroundings. In its anti-male satire, Elle may call herself “frivolous” but her tennis-playing lover is hopelessly impractical and is the first to die. In ints religious satire, Elle, once a fervent Catholic, begins praying to both her god and the natives’ and finally to none.
The role that Elle provides is a juicy one for Thompson and ideally suited to her strengths. Her wry delivery makes the satire all the more trenchant. Her ability to convey a character’s strength beneath her own view of herself as vulnerable is perfect for Elle’s situation. Thompson has always been an insightful interpreter of words, but here she has a chance to display her equally superlative skills at mime and physical theatre. The Elle she creates changes before us from a self-centred society-oriented aristocrat to simply a lone human being with the one simple wish to survive.
Jonathan Fisher, who primarily adds live guitar music to Lyon Smith’s highly effective soundscape, is a taciturn, self-contained Itslk, welcome as an unromanticized First Nations character. His presence in what it otherwise a one-woman show is important for embodying the show’s critique against the European colonization of the New World as if it were not already inhabited. Physically, the playing area already is inhabited before Elle becomes aware of it.
Designer Jennifer Goodman has reconfigured Theatre Passe Muraille’s Mainspace into a narrow thrust stage bringing Thompson very close to the audience, the peninsular stage helping to depict both the isolation of the ship and later the isolation of the island. Goodman’s set is a giant bony structure that looks very much like the skeleton of left hand or left paw threatening those on stage. Yet, depending on the lighting, it can also look like the inside of the cave where Elle seeks refuge or the ribs of the hut Itslk helps to build. Brubaker makes very imaginative use of a large piece of cloth that can be a sail, a tent or, most remarkably, the skin of the bear into which Elle transforms herself.