NB playwright Ryan Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves had its world premiere at Theatre New Brunswick’s Open Space Theatre from Oct. 12-22 Described as having “The dark imagery of Stephen King meets the catastrophic world of The Walking Dead,” the piece is true to its claims; it not only achieves this entertaining effect, but does so while taking a deep look into the Eastern Canadian perspective and its culture.
Griffith, born in Woodstock, NB, is keen on having his work produced and performed in the province, and is a widely acclaimed playwright emerging onto the national scene whom I recently had the privilege of interviewing.
The show was directed by TNB’s artistic director, Thomas Morgan Jones. An award-winning director, playwright, movement coach, dramaturge and teacher, Morgan has over 15 years of experience working on both the national and international stages with prestigious theatre schools and companies.
The cast consists of four actors creating an ensemble of shared roles: Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, a Toronto-based performer and three-time nominee for the Dora Mavor Moore Award; Kimwun Perehinec, also a Toronto-based actor and a co-founder of Studio 180 Theatre; Graham Percy, a Saint John native currently residing in Calgary; and Michaela Washburn, an Albertan performer now based in Toronto, who is a proud Métis artist and a four-time nominee for the Dora Mavor Moore Award.
Before the show actually begins, the set design has to be complimented for its simplicity and elegance. A square of wooden panels contains hidden lights and secret latches, which in turn contain the various natural objects (leaves, rocks, water) that are used later in the show. The panels give off a rustic appearance, as if covered in dirt. This simple object sets up the show’s tone and emphasizes the post-apocalyptic theme.
The show starts with an audio clip to provide context to the audience. The speaker is a high-ranking military personnel, who explains that the play’s various stories are a collection of recordings found in the “Northern Wastes” (post-apocalyptic Canada), recorded by the protagonist as he journeys across the country.
The costume design must be commended as well, as it emphasizes play’s ensemble nature; each actor is wearing different—yet very similar— clothing ambiguous enough to be used in each of the rural, urban and apocalyptic settings.
Interestingly, dice are rolled before the show to determine which actor portrays which character—leading each performance to be wholly unique. In each case, the protagonist, Lole, gives further context by explaining why he is leaving his home province of Nova Scotia on this personal journey. Armed with his bare essentials and a tape recorder, he sets off on a road trip that will showcase the lives of the Maritimes and Eastern Canada.
Lole’s stories all involve relatable characters that the audience can connect with on a personal level. For example, he encounters a paramedic in New Brunswick and hears the disturbing tale of an accident; this character is flawed, but we, as audience members, have all encountered him. His story also serves to highlight the piece’s darker aspects.
As the protagonist travels westward towards the eventual end-goal that is Toronto, the audience encounters more characters—and with them, more tension from their mysterious and/or eerie stories. Each of the scenes serves as a sort of monologue, with the actors themselves creating a scene to match the narration.
Once he reaches Montreal, the apocalypse truly starts affecting the protagonist’s journey. This new plot development adds a layer to the show, as it is no longer simply showcasing Eastern Canadian people and their stories, but creating a fascinating series of events that unnerve and intrigue the audience.
An ever-worsening sense of dread and danger is at every turn. Since the protagonist is an ensemble character, he is somewhat faceless, making his situation and peril all the more relatable. This is one of the show’s overarching motifs, as the importance of the stories themselves and the connection one feels with the characters are deeply connected.
Fortune of Wolves is, ultimately, a story of humanity. It takes a personal look at the lives of Eastern Canadians—their values, joys, insecurities, and everything that one may understand of their culture. The beauty of Griffith’s work is in his ability to create these portrayals while also crafting a compelling and entertaining story. Whether or not someone is an Eastern Canadian or a fan of NB theatre, this show is a fantastic look into the human experience for any audience member—and one you definitely won’t want to miss.
Although the show has finished its Fredericton run, the cast and creative team are embarking on a province-wide tour from Oct. 24-30. Tickets, showtimes and performance locations can be found on TNB’s website.