Canadian-themed Beaver has potential it “didn’t quite live up to”
I had high hopes for The Storefront Theatre’s production of Beaver, a coming-of-age story set in small-town Northern Ontario. Unfortunately, I thought this play was extremely uneven.
Beaver had great sound design that skillfully evoked a Canadian winter, but I thought many of the characters lacked depth, and I was perplexed by some of the playwright’s structural choices. At the end of the play’s two-hours-plus runtime, I felt more disappointed than anything.
I had the impression that Beaver would be the coming-of-age story of its titular character, twelve-year-old Beatrice (played by Chala Hunter). However, the play focused far more on conflicts within her dysfunctional family — her aunts Nora (Carmen Grant) and Sima (Molly Flood), grandmother Edna (Toni Ellwand), and father Silo (Jimi Shlag), as well as other characters from the town.
In fact, we don’t spend much time with Beatrice — and have almost no access to her interiority — until the end of the first act, ninety minutes into the play. As a reaction to the death of her mother Rose (played by PJ Prudat), twelve-year-old Beatrice runs away and ends up having sex with a passing truck driver. She declares herself a new person and changes her name to Beaver. This is the end of the act.
I acknowledge that mourning is complicated. I can perhaps see why Beaver’s grief would push her to do something extreme, but I was still unsatisfied. Why was this a moment of empowerment for Beaver? Of all the nicknames or new names she could have chosen, why did she choose ‘Beaver’?
And, most frustratingly for me, why did the second act of the play skip to five years later? If the Beatrice-to-Beaver moment was supposed to be a moment of self-realization, it was seriously undercut by the shift into another time. Also, as my friend Anya pointed out, Beaver’s encounter with the truck driver technically constituted statutory rape. Even when Beaver is preparing to get married at seventeen, and her family openly discusses her sexual activity, she is still underage.
Of the cast of characters, Silo and Dorris (played by a wonderfully energetic Katie Swift) stood out for having a three-dimensionality that I thought was missing from the other characters. Sadly, for me, Nora and Sima never really progressed from their first one-note argument.
There was a moment in the second act when Nora began to gain dimension — in her profession of love to a passed-out Silo — but she returned in the next scene as a shrieking caricature of the repressed religious spinster. As for Edna, Beaver’s grandmother, I’m not sure why she was a necessary inclusion in the play at all. I didn’t think she had a strong point of view or added much to the plot.
For my friend Anya, the best part of Beaver was the character Cowboy (played by Waawaate Fobister), Silo’s friend and confidente. However, she noticed that he was the only First Nations character, and that he did not have a sympathetic backstory to account for his obvious alcoholism, as the other characters did. We both felt intensely sorry for him during his cringe-inducing and tonally bizarre dominatrix scene with Sima.
Overall, I thought Beaver suffered from slow pacing, a lack of depth in its characters, and extremely on-the-nose dialogue. To my amazement, emotionally clunky lines like “We’re estranged!” and “I am full of longing for you” occurred throughout the play.
I love Canadian theatre and I love the idea of a coming-of-age play set in small-town Northern Ontario. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Beaver didn’t quite live up to its potential.
- Beaver is playing until November 27, 2016, at The Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor Street West)
- Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm
- Tickets are $25 with PWYC pricing on Wednesdays (recommended minimum $15); tickets are available online or at the door
Photo by John Gundy