THE DEVIL YOU DON'T KNOW by Joel Hynes and Sherry White, directed by Heather Braaten, with Renée Hackett and Jonathan Pinksen. Presented by Redwatch at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). Opens tonight (Thursday, September 28) and runs to October 8, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $20, Sunday $10. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNNN
You can take the girl out of Newfoundland, but you can't get Newfoundland out of the girl.
That's true for Renée Hackett, who returns to the Toronto stage in The Devil You Don't Know, by fellow Newfoundlanders Joel Hynes and Sherry White.
Coming back to Toronto after nine months on the road, Hackett realized two things: she wanted to do a piece about the Rock, and she wanted the show to reflect how important her Newfoundland birthplace is for her.
"So I called Joel and Sherry, writer/performers on the CBC show Hatching, Matching & Dispatching, and asked if I could do this script, based on Joel's novel Down To The Dirt. We're presenting the mainland premiere."
Following squabbling small-town couple Keith and Natasha from their teens to their 20s, the play is a fast-moving two-hander with some often comic insights into how people screw up their relationships.
We've all had relationships like this, either with lovers, friends or family members," adds director Heather Braaten, who along with Hackett is a member of Redwatch Theatre. The two appeared together onstage a few years ago in Those Who Wait.
"The play questions what home is, whether it's a person or place," continues Hackett, who's also performed locally in Savage Love and Waiting For Lefty.
"I understand something about Natasha, who has to get away from the island to find herself. She's a real spitey character."
"Oh, that's a Newfoundland word," she smiles. "It means someone who's stubborn, brave, won't back down easily. Natasha's all those things, but she's also completely in love with Keith and a vulnerable dreamer who never quite gets what she wants."
Keith's just as fixed in his ways, but he has no intention of leaving home.
"He's a big, happy fish in a small pond," offers Braaten. "A troublemaker who truly believes his own bullshit, Keith is the kind of guy who puts himself in trouble but gets away with it because he has just enough charm and charisma."
"I understand Keith's intention to stay put," says Hackett. "It takes a lot to get off the island. Getting away means taking a 10-hour drive from St. John's to Cornerbrook, not going to the mainland."
The sparks between the two characters make for some salty dialogue, despite the fact that the middle section of the play is written as two interconnected monologues.
"The challenge," says the director, "is to involve each character in the other's story during monologues. I'm having transitions happen from within, not by exits, entrances or blackouts. Newfoundland musician David Picco is onstage to help the transitions and the sense of time passing."
So how come Toronto-born Braaten is helming so quintessentially Newfoundland a piece?
"I've been twitted for being a non-Newfoundlander," laughs Braaten, "but I feel like an honourary Newfie, since I was screeched when I was there. And it's useful to have an outside eye to tell this story."