From October 13th to 29th 2016, La Chapelle Theatre provides shelter to Talisman Theatre‘s YUKONSTYLE, written by Sarah Berthiaume, translated by Nadine Desrochers, and directed by Geneviève L. Blais. First presented to local audiences in the spring of 2013 at Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui, the piece returns to Montreal to make its English-language Premiere in what is Berthiaume’s second collaboration with Talisman (succeeding the The Flood Thereafter in 2012) and the theatre company’s second main stage production of this year (following the opening of Me and You earlier in May).
Inspired by Quebecois playwright Sarah Berthiaume’s own 4-day trip from Montreal to Canada’s northwestern-most territory, Yukonstyle follows the lives of 4 characters in their search for warmth – literal and figurative – as dwellers of a most ruthless of environments. Set in 2007 Whitehorse, the story centres around Garin (Justin Many Fingers), a young Métis man, and the unfolding of his relationship with roommate Yuko (Jasmine Chen), a gritty but compassionate Japanese immigrant with whom he works with at a local hotel and is secretly in love with.
Suddenly entering their wintery -45°C world is Kate (Julia Borsellino), a lost, impregnated teen who has been roaming solo across the country for months by bus. Found and picked up by Yuko on the side of the road while hitchhiking, the eccentric tutu-wearing, fishnet stocking-bearing meanderer is brought into the two friends’ humble home, much to Garin’s chagrin (praise here for Fruzsina Lanyi’s exuberant costume design). While spunky and spirited, Kate’s naiveté, ignorance, and perilous impulsiveness spark heat and tension among the trio, whose narratives are balanced between raw moments of biting conflict, poetically descriptive monologues, and revealing flashbacks of seasons before.
Compounding Garin’s worries and woes is Pops (Chip Chuipka), his French Canadian dad of deteriorating physical and mental health whom he works to support and who lives tormented by lingering memories of his deceased wife – an aboriginal hooker named Goldie (also played by Chen). Having disappeared when Garin was only an infant, the young man probes his father to disclose the family history, unbeknownst to the former. The alcoholic parent, however, only goes so far as to share vivid hallucinations of his late lover, one who recurrently revisits him in the form of a trickster raven – a central figure in Yukonstyle (and in Native American mythology).
As all four of these colourful characters battle with their own private desires for connection, contact, and companionship, difficult-to-digest – and veridical – accounts of infamous serial killer Robert “Willie” Pickton comprise the soundscape (designed by Navet Confits). (The multimillionaire pig farmer was convicted in 2007 of the second-degree murder of six women and charged for the death and disappearance of dozens of others in Canada.) Having largely preyed on indigenous women working the red light district of Vancouver, Garin wonders if his birthmother might have been one of Pickton’s victims, and the nonstop graphic and gruesome news reports running in the background only further feed his exasperating longing for truth and justice.
Contributing in creating a chilling setting evocative of the barren polar north are David Perreault Ninacs’ atmospheric lighting, Claire Renaud’s raven design, and – most noteworthy among the design elements – Lyne Paquette’s dynamic set structures. As the insides of the trailer pieces make a 180 to unveil the working and living spaces of our protagonists in a land where night never ends, we’re taken aback by the claustrophobic sensation of it all (ironic, given the breathtaking vastness of the “Larger than Life” Yukon.)
Maintaining its mandate of adapting contemporary French Quebec plays to the English stage (credits to translator Nadine Desrochers for preserving the lyrical quality of Berthiaume’s script), Talisman Theatre is to be commended here for providing a voice for the people of the First Nations and bringing their issues front and centre. Yukonstyle is overeager to simultaneously emote, entertain, and educate, however, and in attempting to ambitiously do so, something (apart from Pickton’s prey) goes missing: dangling storylines, broad generalizations… some awkward chemistry, even. While the performances are solid, the younger characters require a bit of warming up to (Many Fingers’ Garin has some moving final moments), but it may all be justified that this a play of, by, and for a new generation of Canadians.
Nonetheless, Yukonstyle succeeds in embracing and exploring relevant issues of identity, diversity, and multiculturalism. More vitally, it illustrates the impact of the national tragedy of Canada’s murdered aboriginal women, blowing the whistle on a system that has failed to protect them and on an onlooking society that has left the native community to fend for itself in the most hostile and unforgiving of conditions. Above all, it ignites essential conversations on our search for roots, how we cope with loss, and our glaring need for human connection and intimacy.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon
YUKONSTYLE presented by Talisman Theatre plays at La Chapelle (3700 St-Dominique) from October 13 to 29, 2016.
Performances from Tuesday to Saturday at 8PM.
Approximate running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: Regular price 30$ | Student 25$
Box Office: 514 843-7738 | lachapelle.org