SPAWN, presented by Wild Woman Theatre and inspired by the Coast Salish story of the Salmon Spirit, got off to a bit of a rocky start as the first SummerWorks Performance Festival show in the Factory Mainspace.
Swimming upstream, it started nearly half an hour late. It was fitting for a show that is ultimately about surviving and even thriving through adversity.
SPAWN is a sweet (yet hard-edged) story of family, though the family is patchwork and at times either grudging or makeshift. It features complex characters and a refreshing lack of true villains, and it gets by on its earnestness and the genuine desire it provokes to see all its characters succeed. With all that said, I found myself wanting a second act from this tale.
Director Gein Wong opens the play by telling us this land is a meeting place by design, and it’s these meetings that carry the show thematically. Theresa (Samantha Brown) has just graduated with a degree in dance; looking forward to a summer off and a chance to connect with her roots she visits a reservation she no longer calls home. She’s looking for answers into her mother’s drowning death and her businessman father’s (Herbie Barnes) distance.
Instead, she winds up being pulled from a potentially deadly fall into the waters by local boy Mikey (Dillan Meighan-Chiblow). They have reluctant chemistry, and one sexual congress later- well, you can guess from the title. Moving back to Victoria with Mikey in tow, Theresa tries to contact what relatives she has left, potentially fracturing their relationships further.
I really enjoyed the relationship between the leads; they were very believable as a young couple in “like” navigating an uncomfortable situation. In particular, Mikey is a welcome, non-stereotypical character, earnest, loyal, and guileless. Actor Meighan-Chiblow imbues him with a genuine sweetness that’s appealing, and Brown grounds Theresa with a bit of steel.
The dialogue is often clunky and predictable, but it serves its goal and has flashes of something greater. Unfortunately, sometimes I found it difficult to hear this dialogue due to the blocking. This and some roughness in the timing can probably be attributed to opening night jitters, but it was distracting.
The story has unique aspects surrounding a typical core that contained a lot of familiar beats, and I wanted to know more about some of the specifics that defined the play. For example, in a small side-plot, Theresa’s father berates his chief for selling land for a mine. It’s a big issue, but one that seems to have no repercussions outside of that one scene. Why was he so concerned the deal was going to ruin him? What kind of businessman is he, even?
Similar in the “mentioned, not developed” category was a brief break into a disturbing incident of sexual violence in Theresa’s history. The refrain laments the difficult world a First Nations female baby will be born into, the relationship between Mikey and his brother, and even the Salmon Spirit story itself, which grabbed my attention but was relegated to more of a metaphor.
When they referred to it, the legend brought out the cast’s strengths, with fabric, projections and dance creating ethereal waves. All the design elements, from the projection design by playwright Cheyenne Scott, to the simple but elegant blocks of Justin Büyüközer’s set, were quietly beautiful and made excellent use of the space.
I know the play only had one hour, but with the complexities it offered, I was a little disappointed that everything seemed to wrap up so neatly, if tentatively. The adversity took a backseat to something satisfying but easy when the issues the play raises are anything but.
- Saturday August 5th, 1:30pm – 2:30pm
- Sunday August 6th, 7:15pm – 8:15pm
- Tuesday August 8th, 7:30pm – 8:30pm
- Friday August 11th, 5:15pm – 6:15pm
- Saturday August 12th, 9:30pm – 10:30pm
- Sunday August 13th, 3:45pm – 4:45pm
SummerWorks tickets are now Pay What You Decide at $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level. Tickets are available at the performance venue (cash only), online and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street). Open August 1-13 from 10am-7pm. Cash and credit accepted.
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 7 shows.
Picture of Samantha Brown by Blair Bouskill