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Theatre review: Wolf at the Door asks a compelling question

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Byron Noble as Matthias Grenfell in Tina Teeninga's Wolf at the Door. Photo by Richard Norrish.

Would you be willing to give up your very way of life for the sake of family?  That is the central question that playwright Tina Teeninga seeks to answer in Wolf at the Door.

Byron Noble as Matthias Grenfell in Tina Teeninga's Wolf at the Door. Photo by Richard Norrish.

Byron Noble as Matthias Grenfell in Tina Teeninga’s Wolf at the Door. Photo by Richard Norrish.

First seen at a staged reading in 2012, Teeninga has spent the last year tweaking her play of the Grenfell clan who, as textile artisans, join the Luddite movement in protest as the industrial revolution introduced labour-saving looms.  Finding their traditional way of life quickly disappearing, the family is drawn into the Luddite plans of destroying the machinery and factories that are similarly destroying their livelihood and their family.

While Teeninga’s central question is compelling, the answer is less than satisfying.  As their community rails against the encroachment of factories on their traditional work, the family must reconcile their fear of industrial progress with the fear of losing a daughter.  As the eldest falls in love with one of the factory supervisors, Teeninga prefers a Hollywood happy ending than in exploring the relationship as a tragic romance.  Feeling contrived and somewhat manipulative, Teeninga tidily wraps up her story quicker than one of the new power looms can produce a scarf.  Life is rarely this tidy.

In her notes Director Kerri Norris highlights the parallels of this time in history with our own current debate around our global economy, buying local and our ever-increasing desire for cheaper goods.  But while it helps put Teeninga’s story into a contemporary context the argument bears little weight as the story draws to its simpler conclusion.

Bryon Noble steps into the shoes as the head of the Grenfell family.  Having performed as the Luddite leader in last year’s reading, Noble successfully transitions with an equal intensity as he seeks to give life to the conflict and we feel the love he has for his family.

Kirsty Provan returns as the younger daughter Harriet, and while an engaging performer, there is still no clarity on the age she is to portraying; Teeninga gives us clues that she is much younger than Provan which begs the question why the role is not given to a younger actor when she is surrounded by others who are closer to the ages they play.  As the elder daughter, Kyla Ferrier oddly comes across as bored. Adam Weidl and Lori Kokotailo do some nice work, but are not given enough time to effectively explore the conflict in their relationship.

While beautiful, the addition of Kyla Ferrier’s original music does little to help propel the action.  In keeping the staging simple within the awkward Pacific Theatre space, director Kerri Norris speaks volumes to the time period.

While the circumstances that Teeninga’s characters must face is complex, the answer to its central question is far too simple.

Wolf at the Door

By Tina Teeninga.  Directed by Kerri Norris.  An Otherwise Productions presentation.  On stage at Pacific Theatre through August 17, 2013.  Visit http://otherwiseproductions.ca for tickets and information.

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