The (Post) Mistress, at the Berkeley Theatre in Toronto, is presented in English, French, and Cree
The (Post) Mistress, currently being co-produced by Théâtre Français de Toronto and Pleiades Theatre at the Berkeley Street Theatre, is a one-woman musical set in a post office. I usually think of the post office as a boring place with long lines. Not where you’d want to spend a lot of time. But this post office, created by First Nations’ playwright Tomson Highway, is different and is filled with laughter, tears, and music.
The performance I saw was in French and Cree, with English surtitles projected on a screen above the stage. My French is good, but I found the surtitles helpful, especially for the song lyrics which were harder for me to follow. I think it would have been fine even if I spoke no French. There are also performances in English and Cree with French surtitles.
The (Post) Mistress, known as Zesty Gopher s’est fait écraser par un frigo in French (Zesty Gopher got squashed by a fridge), tells the story of Marie-Louise Painchaud, the Métis postmistress of the fictional village of Lovely, Ontario. Marie-Louise, played by Patricia Cano, knows all the secrets of her neighbours because she is able to read the mail without opening it. She shares these stories of love, loss, and betrayal with the audience by turning each one into a song.
Patricia Cano delivered a very strong performance. She brings the wacky residents of Lovely to life with warmth and humour. Her affection for her neighbours and postal clients was broad and genuine. She was very funny with excellent comedic timing, and she’s a great singer and dancer.
Tomson Highway not only wrote the play, he is also the composer and lyricist. He provides live piano accompaniment on stage and is joined by saxophonist Marcus Ali. The music is lovely, with each story inspiring a different style. The tale of a Brazilian lover is set to samba. The man from New Orleans is set to jazz.
The set design, by Teresa Przybylski, was simple but effective. With just a desk and a wall of cubby holes, we know exactly where we are.
Though while I really enjoyed the music and the individual stories, unfortunately the play as a whole did not work for me. I did find it charming and fun, but it didn’t hang together or build to something more than a collection of tales for me. The stories did not connect to or intersect with each other and it felt too long. There didn’t seem to be a narrative arc or any dramatic tension.
There is a twist about three quarters of the way through, when Marie-Louise reveals why she has this ability to read the mail without opening it. But I hadn’t really wondered why she could. It just seemed like an interesting conceit for a play. Since there was no curiosity or suspense, the big reveal didn’t answer any questions. It didn’t resolve anything.
I really wanted to like The (Post) Mistress because I enjoyed so many of the components. But in the end, I was left somewhat unsatisfied, and I wished there was something more.
- The (Post) Mistress is playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street) until November 6, 2016.
- The show is performed in French, with English Surtitles, October 12-23 (no surtitles on Sundays) and in English, with French Surtitles, October 25 – Nov. 6.
- Performances are Tuesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 3:30pm and Sundays at 2:30pm.
- Tickets prices range from $19-$49 with Pay What You Can on Wednesdays and Thursdays and can be purchased from the Box Office at 416-534-6604 or at www.theatrefrancais.com.
Photo of Patricia Cano and Tomson Highway by Cylla von Tiedemann