On the Remembrance Day weekend, I saw Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver’s First World War play Redpatch at the Citadel. And tonight I saw Hannah Moskovitch’s What A Young Wife Ought To Know at Theatre Network. Both of them showed me the human consequences of historical facts that I’d already known in a more abstract sense, and I left wondering more about the unspoken hardships in my own grandparents’ lives.
Redpatch is the story of a young First Nations man (Calvert) from the west coast who enlists and is sent to fight in France. The rest of the ensemble (Jennifer Daigle, Taran Kootenhayoo, Joel D Montgrand, Chelsea Rose, Odessa Shuquaya) play his fellow soldiers, but also his grandmother, childhood best friend, a Raven, a killer whale, etc, as the story of their war is interrupted by the older story of two boys sneaking out of school to take a canoe out on the ocean. One of my favourite bits is where the two boys talk while drifting in a canoe, swaying gently so that I almost felt like the canoe was actually on the water. The violence of war is presented in a stylized way, with quarterstaves used as Ross rifles and bayonets, very little actual contact, and no blood, but lighting (Brad Trenaman) and sound (James Coomber) to convey the nightmare horror of trench warfare and No-Mans-Land night raids without being so overwhelming that the text was lost. I found this very effective.
What a Young Wife Ought To Know, directed by Marianne Copithorne, previewed tonight at the Roxy on Gateway, and plays until December 2nd. It is set in the 1920s, among working-class Irish immigrants of the Ottawa area. I found it heartbreaking and sweet, embarrassing and upsetting and sexy and laugh-out-loud funny, by turns. Merran Carr-Wiggin plays the young wife of the title, starting from a teenager with no understanding of sex getting some reluctant explanations from her bolder older sister Alma (Bobbi Goddard). We see her awkward romance with hotel stablehand Jonny (Cole Humeny), their love and pride as new parents, and then their gradual realization that expressing their love for each other physically can’t be separated from risking her life and health in childbirth, and needing to raise more children in an already-impoverished situation. There are no easy answers – Carr-Wiggin’s Sophie tells the audience about some of the unsatisfactory options and staged scenes show us some of the others. The direction and performances felt very compassionate to me. The young husband weeps with frustration, not just wanting to share intimacy with his wife but wishing for more children to love, not quite grasping how awful more pregnancies would be from her perspective. I appreciated that the plot was more nuanced than a typical mid-century narrative showing unmarried women suffering deadly consequences for their own desire or being victimized by men – one can see some similar narrative in Alma’s arc, but Sophie’s and Jonny’s story is a more complicated one that I had not really thought about much before. I was reminded a bit of Moskovitch’s The Kaufman Kabaret, part of the U of A Studio Theatre season in 2016, but this is a much smaller-scale examination of similar issues, and I preferred it.
The set and costume design, by Tessa Stamp, conveyed the modest circumstances of the characters. The two-story backdrop might have represented both the hotel and the tenement apartment, and a sliding door hinted at stables behind. I will be thinking about it for a while.