Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: (Toronto) free as injuns

James Cade (photo credit: Juan Camlio Palacio)

free as injuns engages the senses
by Jessica Yen

Inspired by O’Neill’s classic American play Desire Under the Elms, free as injuns is a saga centered around the Cabot family, three sons born from different mothers, a heavy handed widower father, and his new (significantly younger) wife. Even Cabot is the youngest son who is guided by his dead mother’s voice (played by Yvette Nolan in voiceover). He is driven by his need to reclaim the farm which he believes is his birthright. Enter Be Cabot, Ephraim’s young half-native wife who immediately finds herself irresistibly drawn to Even. They find love in each other and more importantly the shared desire to take back the land. Be becomes pregnant with Even’s child, deceiving Ephraim into believing that it is his. Everyone but the oblivious Ephraim is forced to live under the lie which eventually undoes Even and his relationship with Be. 
One is struck by the scent of soil and sawdust and can practically smell the rain as we hear it coming down.

Upon entering the Buddies Mainspace, the audience is invited to sit in the round. Andy Moro’s set is sunken in the centre of the room, with multi-level platforms and ramps. Above the centre of the stage are eerily hung branches. The configuration works marvellously to draw the audience into the action. Moro’s set is simple and serves Madoc-Jones’ staging extremely well. Moro and Jones transport us from field to farmhouse and the intimate space of the closet that Even Cabot sleeps in by using ramps, stairs, platforms, and earth. Moro’s lighting design supports the story beautifully, especially in the second act when with each new day existence on the Cabot farm becomes increasingly unbearable, the light becomes increasingly garish. 

The show abounds with sensations. One is struck by the scent of soil and sawdust and can practically smell the rain as we hear it coming down. The actors walk, sleep, and kneel in the earth, sometimes referencing those who are buried underneath. The movement paired with the subtle but evocative sound design give a haunting effect. Soil covers the actors’ feet, clothes and spill out of Even’s shoes and pockets. There is no lack of imagery here. 
Where free as injuns lacks is in pacing and transitions. The energy of the show comes in spurts and jolts and never really takes off. The death of Even is unclear, leaving the audience wondering, “Did I miss something?” Catharsis is thus missed; and the piece closes with little lasting effect. John Ng and Ash Knight play wonderfully off each other as close knit bickering brothers. PJ Prudat is arresting as Be Cabot, knowing what she wants and how to get it, using her natural sensuality. James Cade captures Even’s passion and drive wonderfully, but leaves more dimensions to be desired. Jerry Franken is wonderful to watch as Ephraim, the old man who sheds years with the growing of what he thinks is his youngest son. I commend the actors on their physicality which gave richness to their rural characters. 
While free as injuns is an interesting sensory experience, it ultimately leaves the audience unsatisfied. With more work perhaps the piece will find its wings, but for now it remains grounded, never quite taking flight. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.