Storefront Theatre presents a tale of discovery in the new world, on stage in Toronto
The ‘new world’ is more than just a struggle to survive, it’s also a struggle to let go of who you really are in the wilderness. The Storefront Theatre’s Deceitful Above All Things — done in association with Favour The Brave Collective — playing at the Factory Theatre Studio attempts to strip away historical veneers of Canada in the 1600’s to get at the humanity underneath.
While there’s a wealth of material, I can’t help but think all that focus on humanity also lost some of the plot.
As an attempt to populate a new country, France sent women to Quebec in the 1660’s. Deceitful Above All Things follows Anne Bilodeau (Genevieve Adam) and Marguerite Perron (Imogen Grace) in their new life. While Bilodeau must face her past with Father Francois (John Fitzgerald Jay), Perron becomes involved with Toussaint Langlois (Garret C. Smith), a half-French, half-Huron courreur-des bois.
Here’s the thing: when the play is slice-of-life, when we are just seeing bits and pieces of these people and their lives, it’s incredibly strong.
Yes, the show started slow but it picked up nicely a little ways in.
Adam has given her characters wonderful voices. Bilodeau is a woman of pride, sharp wit, and sarcasm. Perron is quiet but direct. Francois is frustrated and tortured. You get a sense of who these people are through their interactions.
The fact that sometimes the story is out of order, jumping back and forth in time, just builds on the tension between personalities.
And the cast doesn’t miss a beat when they get their chance to shine. Madeleine Donohue as Mme. Etienne — the woman who overseas the women brought to Canada for the purposes of marriage — is a comedic goldmine in a limited role. I think she had the most laughs of the night, especially with her push to have Father Francois encourage Marguerite towards marriage. She was just so pushy and cutting, but never with a hair out of place.
Meanwhile, Smith had wonderful chemistry with every one of his cast mates, and he exuded a gently teasing personality that added a lot of depth to some admittedly cheesy lines.
It’s only when I look at the plot itself that a lot falls apart for me.
When we’re following moments between characters, I felt like we were getting the real story, what Adam was actually working towards. Structurally, however, I felt like sometimes extra details were mostly padding, or parts of a different story.
One big recurring theme is Father Francois’s inner conflict about his desires. Repeatedly there are discussions about what he deserves for his supposed sins.
While these details ultimately play out in the story, it feels like it never goes anywhere.
Everything is set up but there’s no actual follow-through. I don’t want to use the cliché show, don’t tell — especially in theatre, when you can’t always show — but man did I feel like the ending was a waste. There’s one crowning moment of awesome, where everything comes together, but it’s not much of a pay-off.
It doesn’t help that the prior scene is messy and unclear. Instead I wonder if that wasn’t the result of trying to make a puzzle piece fit where it shouldn’t. Once the plot started to force its way to the front, it was harder to ignore the way other parts of the narrative didn’t quite work.
I think that’s why I don’t love Deceitful Above All Things. Personally, I just needed the story to come together better than it did.
That said, it’s still worth checking out.
- Deceitful Above All Things plays until February 26 at the Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst).
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm.
- Tickets are $25 regular or $15 for Seniors, Arts Workers, or Students.
- Tickets can be purchased at the Factory Theatre box office prior to show, by phone at 416-504-9971, or online here.
- PWYC Saturday matinee at 2pm
Photo of Genevieve Adam, John Fitzgerald Jay by John Gundy