Ryan Hollyman and Michelle Latimer. Photo by Chris Gallow.
Yay! Our favourite high-concept, multi-part Canadian history/ghost story/genre experiment is back! Yes, Theatrefront’s sensational The Mill project has returned to the Young Centre’s intimate Tankhouse Theatre, and you absolutely have to go. Seriously, if you have any interest in theatre, Canada, the horror genre, or just really good storytelling, you owe it to yourself to book a ticket right now and make sure you don’t miss this highly ambitious, highly rewarding project. For those who’ve forgotten, The Mill is a series of four inter-connected plays that tell the story of a haunted Ontario mill in pioneer times. Each employs a similar company of actors (not to mention Gillian Gallows’ fabulous set) but is written and directed by a different team. While each work stands on its own and tells a complete story, characters and mysteries are shared between the works, and you need to see each one to get the full picture. Fortunately, if you missed the first two,Theatrefront is helping you out: each returns for a two-performance engagement at the end of the month. And don’t worry about seeing the plays out of order; they aren’t presented in chronological sequence anyway. Part Three, for instance, takes place long before the events of its predecessors.
Marie and her daughter Lyca are the very last members of a Wendat community decimated by the arrival of French settlers and the disease they brought with them. Marie’s name and Lyca’s pale skin and blond hair are proof and reminders of that most problematic of culture clashes. They live a nomadic existence by the river, until one day Charles, a French historian and ethnographer who has become separated from his exploring party, stumbles upon them, inadvertently becoming a reluctant and very tentative member of the family. Tara Beagan’s script (which allows for a few killer moments of contemporary dramatic irony, such as when Charles asks the First Nations women what possible harm a historian could do them) very cleverly allows all the characters to speak English. This means that we get to hear Marie and Charles’ attempts to communicate, even though they themselves barely understand a word the other one says. If it sounds hokey, trust us: it works beautifully. And Michelle Latimer (Marie) and Ryan Hollyman (Charles) have really nice chemistry together, which perfectly sells their unlikely love story. Of course, since this is The Mill, and since the entire thing takes place on the Wendat burial ground where the mill will one day be built, everything goes very, very wrong.
More of a thriller than Part One‘s horror movie, or Part Two‘s ghost story, The Woods contains some of the most tense and unnerving scenes in The Mill so far, as well as some of the most beautiful staging. And it manages to do all this without a Bad Guy character; instead, we get a bunch of tragically ignorant characters who all believe they are doing the right thing. And it’s also nice to see Beagan pick up the “Ancient Indian Burial Ground” horror trope—referenced in Matthew MacFadzean’s Part One and explored further in Hannah Moscovitch’s Part Two—and completely deconstruct it in her own piece from a postcolonial perspective. But perhaps the best thing that The Woods in particular, and The Mill in general, does is bring the immediacy and tune-in-next-week-ness of genre television to the theatre. For newbs, you get a cracking good story. For those who have seen Part One and Part Two, you get a cracking good story that builds on the world you’ve already become invested in and gives you more answers than half a season of LOST. What’s with the white birds? How does Lyca keep her youthful looks? What the heck happened on the land the mill was built on? Explained! And with just enough clues about what might come next to keep you in anticipation of the final play in the cycle, Damien Atkins’ Part Four: Ash, coming next season. Frankly, we can’t wait!
The Mill – Part Three: The Woods runs until April 1. Part One: We Are Brody returns for March 29 and April 2, and Part Two: The Huron Bride returns for March 30 and April 2.