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Blasphemy!

Tue Oct 11, 2005 Miss Vicky 

No Great Mischief
I might as well come right out and admit it. I am not a fan of Canadian Literature.

I don't mean everything written in Canada - I mean capital "C" Canlit. Battling-the-elements, living-out-the-destinies-of-our-pioneer-ancestors, struggling-with-adversity, coming-of-age-in-small-town Canlit, with a hefty dose of survivor guilt, a dash of family dysfunction, and a sticky-sweet dollop of maple syrupy sentiment poured overtop for good measure.

So it was with some trepidation that I went to see the GCTC's new production of No Great Mischief, an adaptation of Alistair MacLeod's novel by David S. Young. National treasure that he is, I'm afraid MacLeod fits all my criteria for Fiction Miss Vicky Should Avoid. But I went anyway. And yep, it was Canadian. You bet. It had all of the necessary incredients: poverty, ice, family, adversity, bad weather, alcoholism, conflict, multiple generations of history, snow, gut-wrenching childhood moments, rain, mining, fog, fiddle music and profound loss.... oh, and not a lot of subtlety. Or irony, which is the necessary ingredient for Literature Miss Vicky Likes.

So I wasn't really predisposed to like the play, but let's put that aside for now. Because lots of folks do like that stuff, and if you're one of those, then you probably should check this out. As productions go, it's pretty good, and since we saw it on the first preview night, I imagine the performances will get tighter as the run continues. The acting was excellent - particularly David Fox's portrayal of Calum MacDonald. As the play shifted decades, so Fox shifted between the pugnacious, brash, would-be warrior/poet of the past to the broken alcoholic of the present, haunted by the old songs, memories, regret and longing. John Koensgen's Alexander, whose narration constructs the frames that house this story and its various compartments, is solid - appropriately conflicted as he struggles to accommodate the various roles given to him by his family's legacy and his own personal history. I found the play a bit over-narrated (perhaps one of the drawbacks of adapting a complex and multilayered novel that took 13 years to write), but now that I've slept on it, I wonder whether the narration might serve as a coping mechanism for Alexander - by adopting the role of story-teller, he is somehow distanced from painful emotions and the losses that mark his past and his present.

The staging, lighting and set design are very good. The set is a simple painted backdrop and floor that, depending on lighting, evoke the ocean, sky and rock that are so fundamental to this family's history. Several chairs, moved by the actors, form the basic scenes - kitchen, mining camp, SUV, rooming house, boat - and even graveyard. The mining scenes - all lit by headlamp - were excellent. The play uses music (an original score written by Laurel McDonald and Philip Strong) quite effectively to set the tone, transition between scenes, allow characters to interact. It could use a little toning down, though. I felt the "duelling fiddles" scene in the mining camp went on a little long, for example. Could have ended shortly after "Mon Pays, C'est l'hiver" - although that did give me a giggle.

Anyway, like the Cape Breton brew that's been simmering on the stove for several hours, No Great Mischief wasn't really my cup of tea. Fortunately, not everyone shares my idiosyncratic literary tastes. If you like fog, footstomping, story-telling and fiddlesong, you'll probably enjoy this production.

Some people were moved to reply

Special Patrol Group Oct 12, 2005 04:25 PM said:

I don't have anything to say to add to all of that since I haven't seen this play or read the book. But there is one thing I thought I should add:
MIss Vicky : You'd make a really good theatre critic!! I thought that was a good review and I followed (and agreed) with everthing you said...I don't need to see or read this story at all, you summed it all up for me. Cheers :D

amckay Oct 12, 2005 07:26 PM said:

I love that kind of canlit! but then again i'm very biased ;-)

sounds like i should go check it out

Miss Vicky Oct 12, 2005 07:30 PM said:

I think you'd like it. If I recall correctly, a certain someone with whom we are both familiar is a fan of Macleod. Or was.

Mike M Oct 12, 2005 11:21 PM said:

Thanks for the great review.

Although I'm not generally a huge fan of the Capital C CanLit either, I do have a softspot for McLeod's work. Maybe it's the half Cape Bretoner in me? Anyway, I loved the novel, and hope to see the play. I'm interested to see how they manage to condense it to play length. Must remember to pick up tickets!

Miss Vicky Oct 13, 2005 09:26 AM said:

It will be interesting to hear your thoughts after you've seen it, Mike - especially since you've read the novel. I know they eliminated some elements in order to make it work for the stage - apparently MacLeod was happy with the results.

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