Review by Danny Gaisin
Mar. 27, ‘19
About a hundred years ago, Robert Frost wrote a poem about stopping near a forest just after a snowstorm. The title of Mladen Oradović’s play about the Canadian government’s internment of Eastern Europeans during WW I takes a stanza from that poem as its title. Fitting, as the internees are utilized to clear away a forest for what will be a national park. They earned a quarter for a full day’s back-breaking labour. However, compared to the lack of jobs overseas, this was actually an incentive for young men to emigrate in hopes of gaining a nest egg. The war interfered.
Given the countries of origin and the period, the play resonated. My family came from the same region a mere two decades earlier. That the story itself and the cast & directorial interpretation rings honest and credible, made this performance more of a personal event that just entertainment. Helming a nine-member team of talented thespians; Sandra Cardinal has her actors portray their individual characters with understandable intensity and dynamism. None are just stereotypes, but rather singular personas that are easily identifiable and certainly human.
Oddly, I kept thinking of Shalom Aleichem’s ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ as I became involved with the onstage action and progress. The impact of a meager but festive Christmas dinner with guests; a rebellious daughter; and especially the emphasis on passing along ‘traditions’ resonated. The discussions about language difficulties and especially the resistance to assimilation all resonated. The play defines the diverse attitudes, and even the emigration rationales of its protagonists. Naturally there are quarrels and even betrayal but to delve into these would be a spoiler.
The play is about the group rather than focusing on a star/supporter situation. But Dewey Stewart’s ‘Janko’ is a sort of pivotal role. Ratko Todorović’s ‘Oleksa’ is the most sympathetic character with strong role re-enforcement from Bijana Karadzić’ as his wife. The disaffected daughter must utilize censored mail to correspond with her amorata, Cardinal cleverly utilizes a small desk at extreme stage left, for her contribution…somehow the vehicle works!
Meredith Wolting’s set is minimal but impacting and subdued. A perfect mirror to the lives being demonstrated. There is dialogue briefly spoken in Serbian, but it is the songs and anthem that get a message across even without subtitles.
Frost’s poem talks about ‘promises to keep’ and especially ‘Miles to go before I sleep’. “THE WOODS ARE DARK AND DEEP” personifies both of these in the lives and aspirations of its proponents. The play is on-stage at Toronto’s Factory Theatre – Bathurst @ Adelaide.