WILD MOUTH by Maureen Hunter, directed by R.H. Thomson (Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman). To February 10. $17-$38, stu/srs discounts, Sun pwyc. 416-531-1827, www.totix.ca. Rating: NNNN
In Maureen Hunter’s Wild Mouth, three dinner scenes help shape her fictional account of a Prairie farm family during World War I. By the end, anyone hungering for a gripping drama with a tremendous cast will be full and satisfied.
The story revolves around Anna (Sarah Orenstein), a mother reeling from the death of her 17-year-old soldier son.
Trying to comprehend the loss, she visits her brother Logan (Ian D. Clark) and his wife, Roberta (Brenda Robins), their son Jamie (Simon Rainville), daughter Claire (Sarah Allen) and old hired hand Aloysius (David Fox). During her stay, vivid letters arrive from the front, pushing Anna into an obsession with the battlefields and prompting stormy exchanges with Bohdan (Oliver Becker), a celebrated veteran.
Through these seven multigenerational characters, Hunter explores grief, pain and loss from many points of view. She carefully balances the play’s brutality, particularly Anna and Bohdan’s fight scenes, with Logan and Roberta’s tenderness, Jamie and Claire’s youthful longing and Aloysius’s quiet resignation.
Rarely does a dramatic ensemble include so many fully engaged actors, and this whole cast stands out. R.H.
Thomson’s meticulous direction includes subtle details – Anna pushing her chair away from the table in response to a letter, Roberta suddenly embracing Logan when they’re alone in the barn – that make every action and reaction seem genuine.
Yannik Larivée’s set, constructed from large beams of wood to evoke a barn, is as wide open as the Prairies. It gently slopes upstage toward projected slides of Prairie topography, creating a panoramic feel. And Todd Charlton’s sound design reverberates, shaking the theatre with thunder or softly emphasizing the click of Anna’s camera.
In Wild Mouth, Anna never gets her pictures developed. Technology may have improved since the Great War, but the emotional devastation felt by families, particularly mothers, unfortunately remains the same.