NO GREAT MISCHIEF by David S. Young with the company, from the novel by Alistair MacLeod, directed by Richard Rose, with David Fox, Stephen Guy-McGrath, Nancy Palk, Geoffrey Pounsett, Jody Richardson, Mike Ross and R. H. Thomson. Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Previews to November 7, opens Tuesday (November 9) and runs to December 12, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm (no matinee November 6). $27-$33, Sunday pwyc-$15, previews $17, stu/srs discounts. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNNN
The storytelling that's central to Alistair MacLeod's award-winning novel No Great Mischief proves just as crucial to David S. Young's stage adaptation.
Storytelling was also a challenge to the actors who workshopped and now perform the piece. They're credited, along with Young, with the creation of the play.
"There was always the question not only of how to tell the story but also of what story we wanted to tell," recalls actor Nancy Palk, who plays Grandma in the narrative of two Cape Breton brothers, Alexander and the elder Calum, who are tied together by family history and their own actions. Their Scottish ancestor, Calum Ruadh (Calum the Red), settled in Cape Breton in 1799.
"Even though so much is directly from the novel, things kept changing as we tried them onstage.
"In the book, for instance, Alexander has a twin sister, but during the workshop we realized that the audience could more easily follow one character than the two of them."
The upshot? The twin disappeared from the play.
Palk, a Soulpepper founding member and one of Toronto's finest performers, is the only feminine presence in the play, a source of history as well as folkloric wisdom.
"Grandma's a woman who has a saying for everything, and she lives by those ideas. She also realizes that stories are the way to keep the family together, to get through the sorrows of life. Everything you need to know about your people is inside the old stories. They reaffirm who you are.
"Grandma is a real woman of the earth in this world of men."
Then the actor laughs. "But having a husband and three sons, I'm used to that. It feels a bit like my own life."
She relishes the visceral, emotional draw of No Great Mischief.
"It's like a quilt, the images and memory episodes woven through the brain," she offers. "The stories we tell are sometimes fragmented, sometimes seen from different points of view, which keep altering the tales' meaning. There's something dreamlike about the telling, mysterious and magical, that hits you in a way other than through the intellect."