Theatre review: The Unplugging is a simple and honest tale of hope

The Mayans may have predicted it, but that doesn’t mean they’ve cornered the market on the apocalypse.  Preferring the frozen wasteland of Canada’s north over the fire and brimstone that so often accompanies end-of-civilization stories, Yvette Nolan’s The Unplugging provides a simple message of hope with enough warmth to thaw even the biggest cynic’s heart.

 The Unplugging 	 Jenn Griffin and Margo Kane in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of The Unplugging. Photo by David Cooper.Exiled from their community for being too old to contribute to a post-apocalyptic society, Bern and Elena look for escape far away from what is left of their people.  Finding a small cabin in the ice-covered north, the two begin their new life learning how to live off the land as their ancestors had long before.  As the duo begin to settle into this new existence, they encounter a young man whose sudden appearance is anything but coincidental.

Inspired by Velma Wallis’ Two Old Women, itself based on an Athabascan Indian legend of two elderly women abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine, playwright Nolan provides a modern update to this tale, playing homage to traditional West Coast storytelling.

As the two older women, Jenn Griffin and Margo Kane (photo right by David Cooper) bring an uncomplicated and straightforward approach to their performances.  While it took the duo some time up front to find their rhythm, once they connected with the somtimes surprisingly funny text, they easily drew us into their world.   The transformation we witness in the two over the course of the play’s 90 minutes is at times remarkable, and always with a spark of humanity.

As the interloper, Anton Lipovetsky has the difficult task of creating much of the tension, but while we ultimately learn it is more than mere coincidence that brings him to find these women, there was little build to this revelation and it failed to surprise.

Drew Facey brings a stylized tundra complete with stripped birch trees and an aboriginal inspired forest backdrop that is beautifully lit by Jeff Harrison.  The judicious use of aboriginal music is complimented by the haunting sound effects from Alison Jenkins and Vanessa Imeson’s post-apocalyptic attire is effective.

Simple and honest, The Unplugging gives hope to the playwright’s notion that society does indeed possess the ability to pull away from the brink and to care for both the earth and, more importantly, each other.

4 Out of 5 Stars The Unplugging

By Yvette Nolan.  Directed by Lois Anderson.  An Arts Club Theatre Company production.  On the Granville Island Revue Stage through November 3, 2012.  Visit http://www.artsclub.com for tickets and information.

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