BENTBOY by Herbie Barnes (Young People’s Theatre). Runs at YPT’s Ada Slaight Stage (165 Front East) until October 23. $10-$39. youngpeoplestheatre.org. Rating: NNNN
The future looks bright for Young People’s Theatre. The 57-year-old company, likely the first professional theatre many in the GTA ever visit, has just unveiled its expanded and renovated theatre complex, including a brand new facility across the street from its famous heritage site. And it just premiered Bentboy, a play by its artistic director Herbie Barnes in the newly anointed Ada Slaight Stage, which in itself is cause for celebration.
Set, as PJ Prudat’s narrator and elder character says, “before the coming of the Europeans” – a nice tie-in to the land acknowledgement – the play focuses on the eponymous character (Dylan Thomas-Bouchier), a child who has a curved back and walks with the help of a stick.
Shunned and ignored by the village’s other kids, he’s content to spend time with himself. Until, that is, elder Eagleseye (Prudat) tasks him with leaving the village to find a buried box that will save the town, much to the anger and disbelief of the non-disabled citizens, including Eagleseye’s own athletic grandson, Hummingbird (Dillan Meighan-Chiblow).
Thus Bentboy sets out on a journey, braving the rough terrain, battling the elements and meeting various creatures along the way. Early on, he’s joined by Hummingbird, who doesn’t think he will succeed and, in the able-bodied equivalent of man-splaining, is only too ready to offer up reasons why. But eventually, the two learn to work together.
The simple story – about empathy, understanding and seeing things through others’ eyes – has an archetypal quality about it, and Barnes mixes up his serious message with plenty of humour.
Director Eric Coates, in turn, enhances the script in a production overflowing with imaginative touches. Coates gives the ensemble – including Prudat, as well as Ashley Cook, Brianne Tucker and Daniel Yeh – plenty to do, as they personify water in a creek, impenetrable rocks and, most movingly, the gnarled roots and twisted branches of an ancient old tree.
Waawaate Fobister’s choreography, Nishina Shapwaykeesic-Loft’s costumes and Hailey Verbonac’s sets and video designs help bring the ever-changing quest to vivid life. The use of aerial work lends an unexpected verticality to the design. And Keith Thomas’s sound design, which includes some haunting music, adds grandeur and ceremony to the proceedings.
Thomas-Bouchier and Meighan-Chiblow make a marvellous contrasting duo. And the message their characters impart about using intelligence instead of anger and violence to deal with the unknown is one people of all ages could take to heart.