FIREWEEDS: WOMEN OF THE YUKON, by Cathy Elliott, directed by Laurel Smith, with Julain Molnar, Jill Hayman and Ann Bisch. Presented by Burning Passions Theatre at Canadian Stage Upstairs (26 Berkeley). Runs to October 7, Monday-Saturday at 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $18-$23, stu/srs/grp discounts. 368-3110. Rating: NN
Floral emblem of the Yukon, the hardy fireweed is a fitting symbol for Cathy Elliott's musical Fireweeds: Women Of The Yukon. But in drawing the portraits of some two dozen women, pioneers and strong-willed contemporary figures, Elliott has only sketched in the outlines. Her generic creations, including some potentially striking historic persons, almost never resonate as strong stage characters.
Elliott's music, which ranges from ballads to patter songs and upbeat melodies, is tuneful enough, but her lyrics are ordinary. Musical numbers alternate with monologues in the 30 short scenes, but only sporadically do the episodes linger in the memory. Tying the first act together are a trio of women struggling to set up a cafe in Dawson City, while a woman's encounter with a raven provides the thread in the second.
The best work comes from Julain Molnar, who plays -- among others -- a practical pioneer who doesn't mind taking in washing, a folk figure intent on bringing her mining partner back to life and the woman troubled but then calmed by the raven's visit. Always warm and engaging, Molnar imbues the wan material with soul.
The other cast members, Jill Hayman and Ann Bisch, work hard under Laurel Smith's tame direction -- Hayman has two good numbers, one as the native wife of a miner and later the comic partner of a Wild West sharpshooter -- and musicians Jeannie Wyse and Jon Pilatzke also don't stint on the energy.
But the show never takes off. With its bitsy, collage-style organization, it gives little sense of the Yukon or those who are part of its past and present. It talks about emotion but rarely demonstrates it.