THE LONG VALLEY adapted by This Is A Bird from stories by John Steinbeck, with Colombe Demers, David Jansen, Ann-Marie Kerr, Jordan Pettle and Liisa Repo-Martell. Presented by Soulpepper at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre (231 Queens Quay West). Runs in rep to September 29. $32.50-$51.50, stu $25, rush $18, youth $5. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Loneliness and isolation fill the Long Valley , a trio of short works drawn from stories by American writer John Steinbeck . But those feelings aren't tempered by a quality of heroic optimism, as in Steinbeck's best-known work, The Grapes Of Wrath. Instead, The Chrysanthemums , The Snake and The White Quail focus on three women who seek some nourishment and satisfaction from the natural world.
In the first, the married but discontented Elisa ( Liisa Repo-Martell ) sees her prize flowers as a way of connecting with an itinerant mender of pots and pans. In the second, an unnamed woman ( Ann-Marie Kerr ) buys a rattlesnake from a scientist and takes pleasure in watching it eat a rat. The central character in The White Quail, the most layered of the pieces, is another remote wife ( Colombe Demers ) who uses her garden to keep the world as well as her husband at bay.
Adapted by This Is A Bird (made up of the three female performers), the show is more about character than narrative, and each story strikes telling emotional notes.
Repo-Martell and David Jansen 's quietly seductive drifter generate a subdued sensual tension that adds to the work's poignant climax.
Kerr's mysterious, possibly dangerous woman draws similar sexual curiosity from Jordan Pettle 's alternately nonchalant and nervous scientist. The scientist ends up being the better defined character in the most melodramatic of the three tales.
Demers has lots to play with as Mary Teller, the most richly written of the three female figures. A "curious little bug" to her adoring husband (Jansen), she splits herself into metaphorically cloned images (in the intricate staging, the other two women, silent, are dressed to resemble her) who stand back to admire Mary's garden and her life. Untouchable to her husband, she sees a version of herself in the rare white quail that drinks at her garden fountain.
Jan Komarek 's three-dimensional lighting and suggestive sound design help to define the world of each story, as do Julie Fox 's costumes and spare set pieces.
There's no director listed, which is sometimes too bad, for an outside eye would have emphasized some moment of importance or toned down another that would benefit from more subtlety.
But credit Soulpepper for taking a chance on a new work, expanding the kind of classics offered to its audiences. There's lots of good material ripe for theatrical adaptation.