Friday, August 9, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) Wolf at the Door

Original Play has Moments
Strong cast and set
by David C. Jones

The Wolf at the Door is a passion play of sorts for playwright Tina Teeninga.  In her notes she explains how she has been working on various incarnations of this play for years.

The story takes place at the beginning of the industrial age in a small English town. Matthias Grenfell is a very skilled weaver. He has two doting daughters and soft-spoken but firm wife. Various townspeople and relations are becoming increasingly concerned about a new factory that has opened up that is treating workers unfairly while driving cottage industries out of business.
The set by Molly Lai has a very cool string lattice work that can be lowered which turns the loom into a table and then back again. There is a rustic charm to the furniture.

Director Kerri Norris has got some lovely performances from her actors. The chameleon-like Byron Noble is powerful as a simple man driven to extremes by mass-producing factories that exploit workers and children. He navigates some rather abrupt internal jumps in the character with heart and connection. Also effective is Tim Bratton as Percy, son of a factory worker whom we are told has fallen in love with Sarah the daughter of Matthais. Rebecca deBoer is solid as the dutiful wife in the background.

The entire cast have stoic depth and give heartfelt performances but internal character elements are at odds with the external plot devices.

Matthias, our protagonist, is a quiet simple family man. When the rest of the town want to rise up against the factory owners he resists, wanting to choose a path of diplomacy, but he is talked out of that very quickly and joins the Luddites in protests and vandalism.

Later he berates his younger daughter when she wants to get involved with the Industrial Revolution terrorists saying “words are more powerful” but they ring hollow or hypocritical since we are told he is already participating. Again it doesn’t take much for him to be convinced to let her join.

SPOILER ALERT: When the father daughter duo set fire to a factory, the daughter has an unexpected freak out, which precipitates him having another change of heart. The moral of the story then becomes: if corporate exploiters are oppressing you your only recourse if you upset your daughters is to join them.

It could be considered a tragic ending for our protagonist but there is a tagged on ending that turns the play into a medieval morality play which also supports the idea that the oppressed should just give in and live a Godly life over evil. Evil, like standing up to unfair labour laws and the exploitation of children.

I may be simplifying but that is what the main message appears to be and I am pretty sure that was not the intent.

Thank goodness there are some terrific performances to keep that wolf at the door.

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