playRites - Tyland - Review

February 18th, 2010 by Wil Knoll

Tyland, by Greg MacArthur, is needed. I have not recently enjoyed something as original as this script. It is written with such a great voice for each of its characters. It shows so much strength in its scenes and pacing. The plot is something wonderful and desolate at the same time. MacArthur’s script begs to be staged and become part of our shared Canadian repertoire.

And ATP has done such a wonderful job in gifting it with its first time out. From end to end this production sings. Writing, direction, performance, stage, sound and lights… it is the show to see at playRites.

I need to start by raving about the design of this show. The sound design stands out as a textbook example of charmed. It really looked to the source material’s setting for inspiration. The sounds are knitted together so well. Aboriginal throat song sinks into the waning drizzle of static from the radio, as the wind whips and scrapes snow across the barren rocks so vividly that you can see it. Sound is used sparingly, but used so well.

The staging is smart. Simple props and set pieces start out as supplies, and end up becoming home. Over time these objects begin to frame the discussions that are the prison or promise to the women encamped there. The lights bound a beautifully dressed deck that is lit from underneath with white light. The white deck creates the sensation of the cold rock, the foundation for the locale. These smart decisions create a feel of claustrophobia while surrounded by the empty expanse.

And these details all support a splendidly directed showcase of the words of the playwright and the performances of the actors. MacArthur has written two deeply realized challenges to the women who step up to fill the roles. These characters arc, reveal, and speak as real people. Each character has their distinct voice, cadence, and phrases. The motivations are natural, and so honestly human. The actions and interactions? Well, that’s where the fun comes from.

The amount of breath that goes into the roles, filled by Jan Alexandra Smith and Celine Stubel, is staggering. Both of them put in a nuanced performance where the audience is allowed into the internal monologues and state of the characters. At times, MacArthur’s words can become heavy with telling the stories of action, sequences that could be acted. But within the confines of the environment, the monologues seeping out in the barren company of someone you don’t know, are apt. Alexandra Smith and Stubel glow with energy, pouring scorn or welcome or fury or love all over the deck.

The two supporting roles, fleshed out by Kevin Corey and Geoffrey Brown, are staccato notes over the flow of the play. Each brings a tight energy that complements the massive foundations and forward momentum that the ladies have created. No performer was out of place or understated.

It’s great theatre. The seasoned patron and the non-theatre crowd looking for something different on a Friday night will both get something out of this show. ATP has done a wonderful job staging a strong play from MacArthur. You can feel the distance from everywhere, and the shoulder tightening closeness of that one person who puts your teeth on edge. The plot twists around boundaries, ownership, and what we can truly call our own.

I’d be proud to call MacArthur’s Tyland Canadian. We are better for it.

By Greg MacArthur

Part of ATP’s playRites Festival
Runs through Saturday, 6 March 2022
Martha Cohen Theatre

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2 Responses to “playRites - Tyland - Review”

  1. buddy says:

    Couldn’t disagree more. Predictable unthrilling plot, no atmosphere, and thoroughly overblown. Northern Canada is not an emotional playground for a playwright in love with his own dialogue.

  2. Wil Knoll says:

    @Buddy Well, it sounds like we watched different shows, or have different eyes when it comes down to it. Was there something at the Festival you would recommend however?

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