Extinction Song (Voodoo Theatre) 2012 SummerWorks Review

Extinction Song is a spell binding one-man show written and directed by Ron Jenkins and performed by Ron Pederson. These two Rons are an award winning force – the play has won Edmonton’s Sterling Award and it will likely have a good life beyond this year’s SummerWorks festival.

Performed in Theatre Passe Muraille’s Mainspace, it is beautifully written, tightly directed, and performed with astonishing energy and articulation.

Pederson plays James, a young boy in the early 1970s who truly believes he was raised by wolves. He is utterly convincing and we slowly learn that this belief causes him physical and emotional trauma both in and out of school. He does his best to play a good boy to escape the trouble but secretly refers to his mom and dad as “Stepmom” and “The Mountie” and much prefers the company of the wolf spirits that infuse his bedroom and dreams.

Dave Clarke scores the play expertly with textured and ethereal music that vibrates through James’s world. Narda McCarroll’s set, costumes and lights layer the stage in a wash of dreamy blue watercolour.

Pederson is so tight and realized as James that he will break your heart in half. He performs with breakneck pacing and now and again jumps perfectly into the other characters that make up his life, but never to excess. His is also hilarious. He claps out the syllables in the words that he likes and makes up his own meaning when life seems incomprehensible.

The wolf spirits protect him from his mother’s heartbreak, his teacher’s anger and his father’s drinking. His fear of his father is visceral and I particularly enjoyed how immersed this play was in 1970’s Manitoba with it’s Labatt 50, snow covered Impala and even it’s GI Joe leg (back when GI Joe’s were big).

My only complaint about this show is that I’m not entirely sure that it belongs as part of this festival – it has already had two lives in two professional theatres (Citadel and Eastern Front) at the opposite ends of Canada. I am not entirely sure if a show that has been previously professionally produced exactly fits SummerWorks‘s mandate of “exploring new territory and taking risks”. Perhaps this is a different incarnation of the same show. Whatever the case, the $15.00 ticket price that this festival offers is definitely a good deal for a show of this caliber.

For me, the show captured the sadness and isolation that so many of us experience in our youth, when the only way to escape is to go deeper within. James is not the only kid to believe he was really from something more exciting then a sad and fractured family and a rigid, uninteresting school. This play is well written and so seamlessly directed that it is hard to believe Pederson didn’t write it himself. He is truly one of Canada’s most gifted performers and clearly with Jenkins he has met his match.Together they have created something that surely must be considered one of the festival’s best.

Details:

  • Extinction Song plays at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave)
  • Show times: Wed. August 15, 8:00 PM, Fri. August 17, 8:00 PM, Sat. August 18, 5:30 PM, Sun. August 19, 12:30 PM
  • All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://ticketwise.ca, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the Lower Ossington Box Office (located at 100A Ossington Avenue) Mon. – Sun. 12PM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
  • Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows