Falkenstein’s captivating environmental treatise

Written by Sophie M. Lavoie on November 10, 2015

Lac-AthabascaPublicity22 photo credit Michael Holmes-Lauder

Photo: Michael Holmes-Lauder.

The award-winning play Lac/Athabasca, written by Len Falkenstein, Director of the Drama Program at the University of New Brunswick, was staged Oct. 14th to 17th at UNB’s Memorial Hall in Fredericton.

The play was brought to Fredericton by two local thespian organizations, Theatre Free Radical and NotaBle Acts Theatre Company, and performed by some of Fredericton’s finest actors.

In short, Lac/Athabasca is about the ecological problems in Canada and all their (sometimes disastrous) side effects. Falkenstein’s remarkable story takes the Lac Mégantic, Québec, July 6th, 2013 train disaster as its central plotline, but interweaves other similar and related stories such as other train derailments, Maritimers’ massive exodus to Alberta, the Athabasca Tar Sands, Fort MacMurray, and glacier ecotourism. A plotline about a 19th century fur trader, his guide and Aboriginal lover provides a historical perspective about the different groups’ relationship to the land.

This intricately tangled tale made use of the incredible versatility of the actors in going from one scene to the other to denounce the current Canada-wide environmental situation.

Local actresses Emily Bossé and Rebekah Chassé each have three roles. Chassé was strongest as Huguette, the Mayor of the fictional town of Lac Madawaska, while Bossé was very convincing in her powerful (almost silent) role as Wawetseka, an Indigenous woman. Both actresses master the Francophone inflection needed to play the Lac Madawaska residents.

Two of the three actors (Jake Martin and Alex Donovan) played five different roles in the play. Martin was best in his role as an entertaining glacier tour guide while Donovan shone as a scientist (with morals) working for Suncor. In a noteworthy performance, Jean-Michel Cliche (whose real hometown is Lac Mégantic) rounded out the cast, playing two different residents of Lac Madawaska.

Memorial Hall on UNB’s Fredericton Campus was a stark setting for this story, told using a sparse staging and various light boxes and projectors to show images of maps and towns so as to shift the story and the public’s attention from one scene to another. Michael Holmes-Lauder and Mike Johnston were responsible for this sharp set and projection design. Eric Hill, a local N.B. composer, was tasked with creating original music.

The play had its premiere at the 2014 Vancouver Fringe Festival and was chosen to be shown this past summer in Toronto at the exclusive Summerworks Performance Festival. For his work as a dramaturge on this piece, Falkenstein received second place the Herman Voaden National Playwriting Contest and the Ottawa Little Theatre 2015 National Playwriting Competition. Local audiences were delighted to see it staged in Fredericton.

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