The Chasse-Galerie (The Flying Canoe) at the Storefront Theatre is about as close to all-out brawling fun as you can get. A month ago, daredevil director Tyrone Savage assembled a major complement of artists and musicians and last night, unveiled an original, rip-roaring classic for the Canadian stage.
The directing, acting, incredible set and costumes, singing and floor-stomping energy makes Chasse-Galerie sparkle with magic. Rarely have I enjoyed such a raucous evening! The whole place lifts off with composer James Smith‘s music and lyrics, and Ashleigh Powell‘s choreography. Daniel Briere even adds puppets! And it’s not just a story, with a live orchestra. There’s something quite warm and human and tender about it all, a true Canadian fable.
Loosely based on a French Canadian folk tale, a group of coureurs de bois or woodsmen, alone in the wilderness on New Year’s Eve, long to be friends and warm company. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, they’re visited by an unexpected stranger. In fact, the visitor’s the Devil, and he offers them a deal. Satan promises that if they refrain from swearing, he’ll loan them a magic canoe, one that will fly them above the clouds, to Montreal, and a fabulous night of carousing. But if they do swear, he gets their souls!
In this version of the tale, the woodsmen are all played by women, and mon Dieu, they are good. Tess Benger, Kat Letwin, Dana Puddicombe, and Shaina Silver-Baird tear up the stage. Living in rough country, these sassy ladies look like they could kill wild game while kicking down the tree with their boots. But alone on New Years, half frozen in the snow, they’ll do anything to taste whiskey and have some fun , and the Devil, played with wilily charm by Jonas Widdifield, knows they’ll take his bait. Soon, the four women are floating above the clouds, paddling towards a city all lit up. But the night has many edges, and the Devil’s sly companion, Lucy Ferr, played with serpentine cunning by Vanessa Salazar, push the women closer to sin, placing their immortal souls in danger.
Naturally, all mortals are weak, sin is inevitable, and the beleaguered women find themselves in a world of trouble. Will the unfortunate four break their vow and swear? Or will they find a way to escape the flames of Hell, where they’ll roast eternally for their sins? The ways of God are mysterious indeed!
The minute you enter the Storefront Theatre, you know you’re in for a fantastic event. The lobby and the house are joined, creating one huge long room with seating left and right. The show careens in front of the audience, a hurdy-gurdy spectacle that draws everyone into the fun. The music is wild, the fiddles are smoking, and there’s delirious songs like, “I Love Whiskey, and You Do, Too!” where everyone joins in. But there are also wonderfully sad moments, when the atmosphere is strangely elegiac, evoking loneliness and uncertainty.
Many artists fail time and again while trying to create “art”. In fact, what usually succeeds is making a hard run to get something on stage and making it work. I believe Tyrone Savage is that rare director who can take an idea, gather around him the right people, and instinctively inspire them in just the right way. I believe this because, with The Chasse-Galerie, something worked. And delightfully, the musical sets in motion wonderful memories.
Look, I know it’s the holidays and everyone is bothered and busy. But please, please, please, if you want to have serious fun, go to the Storefront Theatre and take a friend, lover, or even a stranger. This is a quality show, the tickets aren’t much, and you’ll have the best time. And after all, who doesn’t want to have fun at Christmas?
The Chasse-Galerie has a limited number of performances, so go now. Oh, by the way, it’s in English, not French. But the swearing is!
All photographs by John Gundy
All Performers: Nathan Carroll, Tess Benger, Kat Letwin, Dana Puddicombe, Shaina Silver-Baird, Jonas Widdifield, Venessa Salazar, Sam Al Esai, Michael Cox, Chris Murray, Alicia Toner, Jason O’Brien, and Justin Han.
Production: Tyrone Savage, James Smith, Daniel Briere, Ashleigh Powell, Bronwen Lily, Holly Lloyd, Melissa Joakim, Andre Stankovich, Emma Mackenzie Hillier, Lin-Mei Lay, Jessica McGann, John Gundy, and Claire Hill.