Theatre Enthused brings Dear Uncle Wish to the 2017 Toronto Fringe, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have seen it. Dear Uncle Wish captures a time of transition in newly confederated Newfoundland, and explores the tensions between old and new by focussing on two characters’ different approaches to healing. This is an intricately woven tale that will show you something that you may not have thought about recently. Dear Uncle Wish is a modern, original play written by Samantha Chaulk (who also happened to produce, compose the musical score, as well as play the main character, ‘Bride’). If you’d like to see an imaginative and expansive interpretation of a past that wasn’t so long ago, I urge you to go.
Dear Uncle Wish happens at the intersection of ‘Old Newfoundland’ with the newly-turned ‘Canadian Newfoundland’, which occurs in a place called Heart’s Desire, where Uncle Wish lives. Wish’s niece, Bride, a nurse studying in St Johns, returns to her childhood home to live with him for the summer. Uncle Wish seems to represent an older, slower, quieter, (albeit impoverished) Newfoundland, while Bride is more representative of the onset of modernity, of the bustling St Johns and connection to this much larger country of Canada.
Uncle Wish, played by Jamie Johnson, is a healer who draws upon his power of ‘charming’ to help people overcome sickness – sickness being anything that ‘stops you’- not just physical ailments. His charm is steeped in the quiet of the forest and the wisdom of plants, and he engages with the earth and his patients in a very intuitive way. Bride, on the other hand, who is oftentimes bewildered by her Uncle Wish’s success with his remedies, has a much different approach to healing– one that is more scientific, rational, and systematic. However- Uncle Wish is the one people come to visit, and write to, for charming. And sometimes it’s only a simple “you’ll be alright” that sends them on their way.
All of this ‘charming’ business certainly is puzzling, but that is the driving force of the play. What does it mean to know something before you think it?
Uncle Wish’s house is the center of most of the action in the play, but there are three other actors along the sides of the stage who help the story along; they sometimes play Wish’s neighbours, or sometimes they act out a story or letter that hailed from outside of Heart’s Desire. The staging of these scenes and interplay with the main action in Uncle Wish’s house was very fluid and effective in carrying the story along in a dynamic way. Jana Gillis and Erin Roche’s seamless shifts into different characters was delightful to watch, and Evan Walsh had some great comedic moments.
Chaulk and Johnson worked incredibly together, and both gave viscerally charged performances. Their character’s banter and relationship to one another was beautiful to watch unfold. This was an exceptionally well-crafted production that I found to be moving and nourishing.
I personally like Dear Uncle Wish for the curiosity it inspires, for the questions it asks. It asks its audience to consider what ways of knowing are valued over others, what gets left behind when we move forward, and gently suggests at the necessity of hope to overcome suffering. It is a rich play full of truths steeped in symbolism and simple statements, inviting the audience to be active in their own interpretations.
- Dear Uncle Wish plays at The Theatre Centre’s Franco Boni Theatre. (1115 Queen St. W.)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warnings: Sexual Content, Fog, Mist or Haze Effects.
- This venue is accessible.
- Thursday July 6th, 10:00 pm
- Saturday July 8th, 12:30 pm
- Monday July 10th, 07:00 pm
- Wednesday July 12th, 04:00 pm
- Thursday July 13th, 11:30 pm
- Friday July 14th, 07:30 pm
- Saturday July 15th, 09:15 pm
Photo of Samantha Chaulk, Jamie Johnson, Evan Walsh, Erin Roche, Jana Gillis by John C J Murphy.