The classic Canadian -- and, coincidently, gay, though not in this instance -- narrative sees a bullied young man leave his small town to achieve fame in the big city and then have to deal with the demons, and family, left behind. No Great Mischief
takes the archetypical myth, mixes in some big ideas -- fate! quantum physics! Scottish fortitude! -- and cloaks it all in deceptively simple theatricality to create a driving narrative with a strong emotional punch. The MacDonald clan of Cape Breton Island may begin as quaint folksy stereotypes, but as the mythology grows and is brought to vibrant life, they emerge as full-fledged unique human beings who just happen to carry a weighty heritage on their shoulders. As the matriarch -- played by Nicola Lipman with strength and charisma to match the seven men, and dozens of characters, who fill the stage -- explains, "There's a difference between a story that's true and one that's accurate."
All of the actors except RH Thomson, who carries the entire narrative in a befuddled everyman star turn, play multiple characters and also provide musical accompaniment. The resultant effect may be homegrown let's-put-on-a-show, but the characters are clearly delineated, and the music, always tuneful, comes to the fore to explicate an important plot twist in the second act. And even playing a dog is not beyond these actors' -- in this case Daniel Giverin, who also turns out to be a mean fiddler -- reach. Ben Irvine, with the assistance of a hairy prop and a lot of attitude, pulls off the most extreme transformation but makes a compelling con man/bad boy who also has vocal chops. But the centre of the show is the quiet dignity-in-distress of David Fox, who never hits a false note in what could be a showboating role.
The Tarragon is a small theatre, but the clever stage, sound and light design smoothly transport the audience through a series of locations that are evoked with no reality but clearly enough that they are tangible. From ice floes to mines to a warm-hearthed kitchen, a handful of chairs and a few props are manipulated to create entire worlds. No Great Mischief
is a Canadian saga told nimbly and with heart to poetic effect.
No Great Mischief runs till Sun, Oct 21 at the Tarragon, 30 Bridgman Ave. tarragontheatre.com