by Lorraine Payette, written August 15, 2013
(GANANOQUE, ONTARIO) Marie-Louise Faucon isn’t your usual run of the mill postal employee. In Lovely, Ontario, in 1968, she has developed a rare and wonderful gift. Just by holding the letters in her care up to her heart, smelling their perfume and letting their very essence overtake her, she knows everything there is to know about the people who write them and those for whom they are intended. And she is more than willing to share her amazing insights with all of us if we will but sit and listen. After all, she is “The (Post) Mistress”, and the play by Tomson Highway will be opening at the Firehall Theatre in Gananoque on August 16.
“Lovely, Ontario, is a fictitious town based loosely on Tomson Highway’s hometown of Lively, Ontario,” said Andrew Lamb of Toronto, director of “The (Post) Mistress”. “We first did this production in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, at Ship’s Company Theatre in summer, 2011, then about 5 months ago it was remounted as part of the 50th season of the Neptune Theatre, Halifax, and subsequently here at the Firehall, so this is the third incarnation of this same production with a few adjustments along the way. We were so thrilled to actually be able to bring a production of a play that takes place in Ontario to Ontario. Obviously, we’re curious to see what’s going to happen when we share it with an audience here in a smaller Ontario town.
“Tomson Highway befriended the woman who worked in the post office in Lively, and it was she who inspired the character of Marie Foucand. So it’s actually based on a real person whom he embellished and used to create this story.”
Playwright Tomson Highway was “born in a snow bank on the Manitoba/Nunavut border to a family of nomadic caribou hunters (and) had the privilege of growing up in two languages – Cree, his mother tongue, and Dene, the language of the neighbouring ‘nation’,” as his most popular bio states. A member of the Order of Canada and the recipient of nine honorary doctorates, he is a novelist, playwright and musician as well as a song writer, and in 2001 MacLean’s magazine named him one of the Top 100 Most Important People in Canadian History. He is perhaps best known for his lively sense of humour, keen insights into the people around him and his ability to share all of that with a certain warmth and compassion seldom seen in other writers. He uses his knowledge of language well to add to the depth of his characters, but at no time leaves the audience feeling lost in a sea of confusion as he weaves everything together to teach by context those things they most need the listener to know.
The band itself is highly unusual for this show. There is no percussion, only two highly talented musicians playing all the required music on piano, bassoon and tenor saxophone.
“Tomson Highway toured with jazz performances all over the world for about ten years, and that foundation led to a lot of the music in this show,” said Lamb. “Although it takes place in 1968, I feel that there’s a certain modern feel to the quality of the music, which is certainly not traditional music theatre kind of material. What’s so wonderful for me about this piece is Martha’s Marie-Louise gets to really interact with the audience. We break the fourth wall – the audience is really the other character that Martha is acting with and that’s where the really exciting, fun comedic moments and interaction start to make that sense of community come to the foreground when you’re watching the show.”
Everyone had their own personal reasons for joining the show.
“Marie is French, and she does little spatterings of French throughout, so that was a challenge,” said Martha Irving of Halifax, Nova Scotia, who plays Marie-Louise Foucan. “She speaks a little bit of Spanish, a little bit of Cree, so there were lots of challenges in it that really attracted me. She’s one of those once in a lifetime characters that you just love to inhabit and spend a couple of hours of every night with.”
“We all agree that Tomson Highway is a national treasure, so when I got the music and I listened to it, it’s just so charming,” said Holly Arsenault from Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, music director. “We have a bassoonist because Parrsboro is a wee little town on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia with a really vibrant art scene. I have a friend there who is a bassoonist, and as we worked the music together, we realized it would be great for bassoon. This is how we ended up with this rather unusual orchestration, which I just love. We’re really fortunate to have found someone who plays both bassoon and tenor saxophone because it’s just so unusual to find.”
“The saxophone just doesn’t have the voice of the bassoon,” said Katie Legere, Kingston resident, who plays both bassoon and saxophone. “The bassoon becomes like a character to the show, giving the music an added depth.”
“The (Post) Mistress” runs from August 16 – September 14. Show times are Tuesday through Saturday 8:00 pm, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm (starting the Sunday after opening night). Tickets are $32 for adults, $30 for seniors age 65+, $16 for students. Group tickets are available at $26 – $28 each including GST. This show is highly recommended for people of all ages. For more information, please go to http://www.1000ialandsplayhouse.com or contact the box office at 613-382-7020.