Review: The Mill Part Four: Ash (Theatrefront)

by Dorianne Emmerton

Unfortunately I was not able to see any of The Mill shows before the final instalment, Part Four: Ash, although Mooneyontheatre was able to review Part One: Now We Are Brody. I’m a horror movie buff so the prospect of seeing a horror play was very exciting. I was assured that each piece was a stand-alone and I would be able to understand and enjoy seeing any of the plays without seeing the preceding ones. As part of this assurance I was told that they weren’t in any specific chronology.

So I was surprised when I arrived and saw the program’s write-up on the first four parts, as they were in a chronology: reverse chronology. Part 1: Now We Are Brody was set in 1854, Part 2: The Huron Bride was set in 1834 and Part 3: The Woods was set in 1646. So I surmised I had been given incorrect information, or perhaps had misunderstood, and expected to see a play set before 1646.

I was wrong. And I was happy to be wrong, as Part 4: Ash is post-apocalyptic, which is one of my favourite sci-fi/horror sub-genres. It’s set sometime in the future, in a nuclear winter.

There are five “children” living in the haunted mill that is the setting for The Mill cycle. They no longer remember their original names and go by Bear (Eric Goulem), Bird (Michelle Monteith), Fox (Ryan Hollyman), Rabbit (Frank Cox-O’Connell) and Beaver (Maev Beaty). They are awaiting the return of their “father”(Richard Greenblatt) who is on an extended journey in search of supplies to replenish their food stocks.

These “children” are young adults who have not had the opportunity to mature in any normal way as they have been holed up in the mill since they were very young. Their only contact has been with each other and the dominating Father, who is not anyone’s biological father.

The spirits of the mill take the opportunity of Father’s absence to manifest. The ghost of Marie (Michelle Latimer) is a fairly benign entity but the wendigo girl Lyca (Natasha Greenblatt) is a creepy, bloodthirsty demon who exerts considerable influence on the children.

Then Father returns and all hell breaks loose.

The special effects of projection and of the manipulation of Lyca’s voice are incredibly effective. However I wondered since they obviously had the financial and human resources for effects, why they couldn’t include a blood pack for the stabbing scene? A brutal stabbing with absolutely no blood was jarring in the midst of such an otherwise high-production-value show.

My companion for the evening felt the first part of the show dragged a bit. It’s true, it was slow-paced at first, but in my mind it rather pays off, as it instils the feeling of monotony that the children must be feeling as they are holed up in one room all the time with dwindling food supplies.

However, I think it could have retained that feeling and used that period to build up to action by having the character of Fox start out at a lower energy. Fox is an angry, accusatory, yelling character from the outset and so when the action started heating up it seemed he didn’t have anywhere new to go.

These are the sort of nitpicky things I notice when a show is really good, and The Mill (Part Four): Ash is really good. This is the first production of Ash and the first three parts are remounted in rep with it: I hope that they remount the entire cycle in the future so I can see them all.

Details:

The Mill (Part Four): Ash by Theatrefront played to January 29, 2011 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, in the Distillery District, 55 Mill Street

Photo of Richard Greenblatt and Natasha Greenblatt by Chris Gallow