Wednesday, February 8, 2012
THE GREAT MOUNTAIN
07 FEB 2012
Pictured: Allyson Pratt, Meegwun Fairbrother
TORONTO - There are aspects of climate change that even the scientists studying it have a tough time explaining, so it’s small wonder that when a theatre company sets out to discuss the topic with kids, a bit of simplification is in order. That said, one suspects that kids on the high end of the target audience of Red Sky Performance’s THE GREAT MOUNTAIN — produced for students, grades one through seven — might feel that the whole issue has been over-simplified by just a tad. THE GREAT MOUNTAIN launched a three-week run on the Young People’s Theatre mainstage Tuesday.
Apparently inspired by a folk tale from the First Nations of the northern plains, playwright Tracey Power spins out the story of Nuna (played by Allyson Pratt), a young girl who is being driven to distraction by a sound that apparently only she can hear. After attempting to trace the sound to its source in her city home — an attempt that brings her face-to-face with the adult rat race in quite delightful fashion — she sits down to discuss the problem with her aged Grandma Mika (played by Nicole Joy-Fraser, who also tackles several other roles in the course of the show).
Grandma Mika, for her part, recalls a similar experience when her own grandfather introduced her to the Laughing River, which flowed across the plains of her youth, fed by the snows of the great mountain, which magically seemed to know, back then, just how much snow it would take to keep the river chuckling.
Grandmother and granddaughter set off on a voyage to the Laughing River, aboard a delightfully self-important train (Meegwun Fairbrother, in one of a multitude of roles), and when they arrive at their destination, they discover that the river itself is troubled and that the sounds of sorrow that have been plaguing Nuna’s inner ear emanate from the mountain that feeds it.
Directed by Alan Dilworth with a creative assist from Sandra Laronde who also choreographed the show with Carlos Rivera, it proves to be a highly inventive staging, as the three member cast claims Jung-Hye Kim’s simple set — a small range of mountains behind a double stone circle— and makes it their own.
Pratt, for her part, turns in a performance of sometimes precociously bratty pluck, while Fairbrother anchors her in a number of quite magical and centred turns. Unfortunately, Joy-Fraser does not prove quite so adept at character shifting, which translates into an array of characters that, despite Jeff Chief’s costumes and Silvie Varone’s masking, are all marked by a certain sameness that adds little to the narrative.
And that simply underlines scripting problems with THE GREAT MOUNTAIN, for having done a crackerjack job of explaining the problem in terms simple enough to be comprehended by a young audience (even while it’s being enjoyed by older patrons), playwright Power slips from simplification to over-simplification, offering a solution to the problems plaguing river and mountain that ultimately just doesn’t seem to add up to much, despite the fact that it apparently saves the world for at least another generation.
Finally, it is almost as though there is a chapter missing between the end of Nuna’s quest and the ending of the play — and frankly, that might be the most interesting chapter of the story. THE GREAT MOUNTAIN continues through Feb. 29.