Sean Dixon's latest theatre production lauded

Sean Dixon, author of The Girls Who Saw Everything, is also a noted playwright and actor. Recently, he made his theatre directing debut with an adaptation of Barbara Gowdy's The White Bone, part of the SummerWorks festival, and it has received some glowing reviews.

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The White Bone ★★★★

Featuring Tashieka McTaggart, Samantha Hayes. Written by Barbara Gowdy. Directed by Sean Dixon. Part of Summerworks Theatre Festival. Ran Aug 3-5 (Pt. 1), Aug 7-12 (Pt. 2). $10-$12. Factory Theatre Mainspace, 125 Bathurst.

If the greatest art is often made on the slimmest of budgets, it’s probably a good thing that The White Bone — novelist and playwright Sean Dixon’s directorial debut — is getting its first public airing within the economical confines of SummerWorks rather than, say, the Princess of Wales Theatre. The play, an adaptation of Barbara Gowdy’s 1999 fantasy novel about a herd of elephants on a vision quest, is a wonderfully thrifty epic. Without the aid of fancy costumes, prosthetic makeup or special effects, Dixon and his cast (populated almost entirely by recent Humber College drama grads) weave a complex tale of sacrifice and survival in sub-Saharan Africa using only their bodies, throats and, on occasion, an accordion. Eat it, Lord of the Rings!

The majority of the narrative centers around Mud and Date Bed, two young female calves of the matriarchal She-S tribe. Mud (Tashieka McTaggart), an orphan, is withdrawn and alienated from her adopted family, while her best friend Date Bed (Samantha Hayes) is doted on by the adults and revered for her spiritual powers (as the tribe’s “mind talker,” she can communicate with other species). As rumours of the White Bone — a mythical lost object that, once found, will lead its possessors to the Safe Place, a promised land free of drought, predators and humans — reach the community, the pack sets off into the vast drought-scorched wasteland to find it. Their odyssey turns grim when, after escaping a group of ivory poachers (“hindleggers” in pachyderm parlance), Date Bed is separated from the tribe, leaving the survivors both physically and spiritually lost.

With little exposition and lots of similarly-named characters, the script forces patrons unfamiliar with the book to do a lot of catching up on the fly. The action moves fast and fluidly between dream, memory and reality (or what passes for reality in a world of anthropomorphic animals), and many actors play multiple roles within the same scene. But that loose, amorphous feel only adds to the play’s hallucinatory dreamtime vibe.

The production is held together by its versatile, uniformly excellent cast and Dixon’s creative visualization of the text; through movement, posture and song, he allows Gowdy’s words to move and breathe in three dimensions. Bob Wiseman is responsible for the subtly spellbinding score, managing to somehow make his accordion mimic a sitar, a didgeridoo and a sleeping elephant’s breathing. An accomplished production that its rookie director and mostly young cast can be proud of, we can only hope that whichever company picks it up next keeps it this wondrous, this lean and this fake-proboscis-free.

STEVE ENGLISH

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