As Edgar Allen Poe once penned, “All that we see or seem. Is but a dream within a dream.”
I wonder if Toronto playwright George F. Walker had that in mind when he wrote the script for Caravan Farm Theatre’s new winter production, The Orphan’s Dream?
The play is certainly “dreamscapy,” as Caravan’s interim artistic director Estelle Shook described to me before my co-worker and I traveled to the wilds of Spallumcheen on the moon-lit, and frigid, opening night Wednesday.
Directed by Jennifer Brewin, who has also delighted Caravan fans with her return to the farm, the play is best described as a cross between A Christmas Carol and Dr. Who.
Except, instead of a blue Tardis phone booth, we are transported through the time and space continuum via horse-drawn sleighs.
It’s a magical ride, and at times mysterious as you try to figure out which time period you have entered with the brave team of five actors, who basically run around in their nighties, and in this case, in -15 C temperatures.
The tale starts at the farm’s Designery building, transformed into an orphanage, as young Clair (played by talented Métis actress PJ Prudat, a member of the National Art Centre’s 2015-16 English Theatre ensemble) is told in a dream that her brother Will is still out there somewhere.
She and her imaginary friend, Izzy (the delightful Natasha Greenblatt, a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada), set off to find him, and we go along for the ride… make that a short walk to the farm’s timber frame barn.
Upon approach, I expected to hear Rod Serling’s famed opening line, “This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone...” as we entered the lit-up clock tunnel time machine (the impressive work of set designer Catherine Hahn, assistant Adriana Bogaard and lighting designer Stephan Bircher) complete with whirring sound effects. There we realized, by the approach of “dour woman” Jenny Paterson, who admirably plays a few roles here, that we are now in the pre-Dickensian era.
The next thing you know, we are whisked off by Tardis, I mean sleigh, to follow Clair and Izzy as they make their way to the future, or is it the past (?), to find their destiny and learn a few lessons along the way.
For the kid in all of us, the girls encounter aliens with buckets on their heads, and a giant dinosaur (thanks to the talents of props designer Maureen MackIntosh), who munches his way through the scenery.
There’s also hermits, knights, magicians, cave dwellers, and even miserly Ebenezer Scrooge himself, who slips in and out of the scenes.
The latter character is played by none other than George Young, of Armstrong‘s Asparagus Community Theatre fame, making his Caravan winter show debut (he has appeared in summer Caravan productions of Our Town and Cyrano of the Northwest). Young lives up to his last name, as he does more running around in this show than his counterparts half his age.
Also braving the elements is Vancouver’s Sebastian Kroon, as Will and a few other characters, who at one points finds himself stuck in a stockade when the peasants decide to revolt. Talk about sacrificing comfort for your art!
Yes, it is all a bit cray, cray, but the fun is in the anticipation of what comes next. The dialogue is something you may want to hear a few times in order to absorb Walker’s message of finding something from nothing, and seeking the true meaning of what Christmas is really about.
Now the bad news. All the sleigh rides are now booked full until the end of the show run. However, a waiting list is available at the Ticket Seller (ticketseller.ca), so cross your fingers that time is on your side.
– Kristin Froneman is the arts-entertainment editor at The Morning Star.