Deceitful Above All Things provides a voice for women and First Nations people in New France

Strong-spirited women and a half-native coureur des bois drive this production

DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS by Genevieve Adam (Favour the Brave Collective/Storefront). At Factory Studio (125 Bathurst). Runs to February 26. $15-$25, Sat mat pwyc. See listing. 416-504-9971, Rating: NNN

Themes of bravery, romance and sacrifice underpin Genevieve Adam’s Deceitful Above All Things, an often absorbing look at the late 17th century settlers of New France and the First Nations people they meet.

A pair of independent women, Anne (Adam) and Marguerite (Imogen Grace) are two of hundreds of filles du roi, young French women who chose or were sent to settle in a bleak and uncertain northern wilderness. The outspoken Anne marries farmer Amable Bilodeau (Brian Bisson), while the quiet Marguerite becomes involved with the half-French, half-native woodsman Toussaint Langlois (Garret C. Smith), a coureur des bois.

In the opinion of the prim Mme. Etienne (Madeleine Donohue), the self-declared chaperone of the young women in the community where the women settle, Toussaint isn’t the partner that Marguerite, her pride and joy, deserves the older woman looks down on him as a half-breed who isn’t part of proper society.

Etienne also has problems with the feisty Anne, who doesn’t always show the proper respect to her husband or to Father François (John Fitzgerald Jay), a Jesuit who has journeyed across the Atlantic to convert the locals but is equally drawn to giving up his life for his Saviour.

Moving back and forth in time, Adam weaves together their stories – including that of Catherine (Joelle Peters), a native woman who has attached herself to the French people – with growing richness. Still, some elements could be further developed. We know why Anne travels to a new world, but Marguerite’s back story isn’t as clear, and Amable isn’t as fully fleshed out as he might be.

Even so, the actors, directed by Tanya Rintoul, are engaging, especially Adam’s clever, often entertaining Anne, Donohue’s snobbish Etienne, and Grace and Smith as a couple who play out an unusual seduction after he saves her from a ravenous bear. The two develop their relationship, at times gentle and nuanced and at others fierce, with an understated but sexy chemistry they’re the most memorable part of the production.

The design is another simple but striking part of the show, notably Nancy Anne Perrin’s set, which combines a red and white floor – blood and snow? – with upside down branches suggesting the wilderness locale, Logan Cracknell’s lighting and Deanna Choi’s atmospheric sound design, which help underline the show’s moving and satisfying final image.

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