PHOTO OF TIFFANY AYALIK AND JONATHAN FISHER COURTESY OF CHRIS GALLOW
June 19 – 22, 2012
Listen to my review of Night on CBC’sEyeopener http://www.cbc.ca/eyeopener/columnists/theatre/2012/06/19/night/
Last night’s performance of Christopher Morris’ Night started with accolades before the play have even begun. For his artistic potential and vision, the Canada Council awarded Morris the 2012 John Hirsch Prize which goes to one Francophone and English emerging director every two years and carries with it a purse of $6,000.
So in a sense, Morris had won the evening even if Night fell flat for Calgary audiences. Thankfully for him and us, this latest Magnetic North Festival opening lived up to the award the director/playwright was handed prior to curtain.
On a big picture level, the play deals with the large and sensitive issues surrounding the clash between Inuit and colonial culture. More specifically, the story starts when Daniella, an anthropologist from Toronto, arrives in Pond Inlet carrying the bones of an Inuit man that were stored at the museum where she works. The reason Daniella is bringing the bones all the way up north is because she’s received an emotional email request to return the remains from someone she believes is the dead man’s 16 year old granddaughter named Piuyuq.
What the audience knows and Daniella doesn’t, is that the email was actually sent by Piuyuq’s best friend Gloria who was trying to help her friend’s troubled family. Just the year before, Piuyuq’s mother died in an alcohol-related snowmobile accident and her father Jako (who may have caused the accident) has been impossible to live with ever since. Gloria is hoping that the return of the missing grandfather’s bones will help bring wholeness to the family and kick start the healing process. Conversely, Daniella, who suffers from while person’s guilt over Canada’s treatment of the Inuit, is hoping the return of the bones with not only help the family, but more importantly ease her own conscience.
Needless to say, things don’t go as planned.
Before seeing the play I had learned that the story was told through a combination of English and Inuktitut and while I was intrigued, I was hesitant. I’ve seen many plays that use two languages in an effort to bring legitimacy to a story and it doesn’t always work naturally or add substance to the production. However the use of Inuktitut in Night brings a truly magical and meaningful element to the play. More than just the lyrical cadence of the language, the Inuktitut dialogue sounded beautifully attuned to the story being told and the authenticity of it gave the play a deeper dimension than using English alone would have. The use of a small screen in the upper right hand corner of the stage worked very nicely for the projection of subtitles that were easy to read and didn’t dramatically subtract from the action on stage.
This is especially important as a couple of the characters in Night were must-see performances. Reneltta Arluk as Gloria remarkably played her character’s naïve, haunted and ultimately very troubled emotions with elegant subtly and impressive understated energy. I found myself drawn to her every time she took the stage. Tiffany Ayalik as Piuyuq was a much more aggressive part and her acting certainly stood up to the challenge. She was at times bratty then rebellious then angry then devastated and I believed every one of the emotions Ayalik was trying to deliver.
The only weak link in the cast at times was Jonathan Fisher who played a number of roles including Piuyuq’s father and a Hungarian junk food seller which is a character that seemed dropped in out of nowhere and completely wrong for this story. Fisher struggled to get the Hungarian accent, but failed and instead played the role in an over the top fashion further making the character seem out of place. As Jako, the father, Fisher fared better, but I found his performance a tad self-conscious and not at the level of the other cast members.
But some small gripes aside, I thought Night was a really unique story told in a truly unique way. Visually it was striking with a kind of eerie cool lighting and minimal set design that had the all the action taking place on a snow bank in the middle of the stage. Kudos to Set Designer Gillian Gallow and Lighting Designer Michelle Ramsay for perfectly setting the mood for this provocative story.
Kudos as well to Christopher Morris whose writing was thoughtful and not overly preachy or dogmatic despite the heavy-handed and at times tragic nature of the subject. While certainly not a comedy, Morris does manage to inject some levity into the production and allows his characters occasional grey areas. Morris’ direction of Night is adept, and quite nimble in handling the many scene changes. This is an interesting story, with some great performances in a really slick-looking minimalist production. And it is the perfect example of what the Magnetic North Festival should be showcasing.
For the guys – You will have no issue relating to the two female leads and the insight into the North/South relationship is delivered in a thoughtful manner. SEE IT
For the girls – The relationship between the two teenage girls will affect. The challenges they face personally and in response to their colonial past will move you. SEE IT
For the occasional theatre goer – There may be too many metaphorical scenes in this for your taste and the subtitles may be more work that you are willing to embrace. MAYBE SEE IT
For the theatre junkie – While not a perfect play, Night does so many things right that it will stick with you long after the play is done. SEE IT