Stopheart Play

Factory Theatre's Stopheart a gripping but uneven play

Amy Lee Lavoie's Stopheart has a distinct Canadianness to it that's not only a product of its setting in a small Northern Ontario town called South Porcupine. An exploratory opening monologue, rural boredom, a troubled Native character and a quirky, twisted sense of humour all contribute to this heartland Canadiana feeling.

The result is a play with something of a fractured identity — a quality often associated with the Canadian profile itself — that's one part dark comedy, another part devastating drama. The muddled tone doesn't help drive home the themes of the play, which are further weighed down by metaphors involving sand, stars, and Shakespearean verse. Yet through the confusion, there is a strong pulse that reveals itself in act two.

Elian (Amitai Marmorstein) is the a product of two wacky parents, Goldie (Elizabeth Saunders) who routinely rehearses the celebration of her death and Cricket (Martin Julien) who dreams of being a cowboy but lacks the confidence. Elian's best friend July (Vivien Endicott-Douglas), a vulgar, tough cookie pal, has warned her friend to avoid her dark and dangerous brother Bear (Garret C. Smith). But having fallen hard, all-consumed Elian cannot turn away from love so easily.

Lavoie's play is a wolf in sheep's clothing. A comic, quirky veneer established in the first half, defined by the overly-embarrassing shenanigans of Elian's parents, gives way to the dark matter beneath. The younger characters, Elian and July, are dimensional enough to make the journey, but the parents never really make it full-circle and are left looking wholly unsympathetic in light of the darker material.

The play is further complicated by universe-related metaphors that seem at odds with the rooted, earthy narrative set in South Porcupine. These factors make it difficult to appreciate Lavoie's captivating climax, an exciting and devastating scene that's buried amidst dense foliage.

It's here where the core of the play, about a young boy confronting his sexuality and choosing to pursue love, reaches an emotional reality that far outstrips the efforts in the first act. Lavoie's dialogue is sharp, director Ron Jenkins finds the correct pace, and Marmorstein changes gears on a performance that had been, up until that point, over-angsty.

Endicott-Douglas is a fine foil and is the only one who can fully respond to events in the final scene. It's unfortunate for Saunders and Julien that their characters appear comical and out of place in these moments, unable to muster a believable response.

Shifting from comedy to tragedy and back again is an ambitious move for a writer so young. There is an intelligent heart that beats strong, but the fringe and frills inevitably clutter the meaningful story arc.

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Stopheart, written by Amy Lee Lavoie and directed by Ron Jenkins, runs at Factory Theatre until May 26.


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