There is an allegory about violence, adolescence and isolation. In Rock, Paper, Jackknife …, four strange and terrified youths arrive in an isolated and frozen village on a freighter from an equally hellish place. Marilyn Perrault thus explores the effects that violence and fear and marginalization have on adolescents.
The play takes place In the Quonset hut classroom where Mielke is taken from her work in the village clinic to teach these “Harsh” speaking youngsters the language of the Northerners. Julie Tamiko Manning is painfully believable as the disenfranchised Northerner who was once taken to the large cities of the South where she may or may not have killed one or both of her parents. She is the emotional centre of the story and the promise of a little hope as the maternal figure to which the youngest clings.
The newcomers learn Northern to communicate with the villagers, and to be allowed to work in the mine. One of them does not speak at all, and the others speak a kind of made up language which sounds like a mixture of Pidgin English and Gullah.
What ensues when Nox, the younger verbose boy (breathlessly and believably played by Rockne Corrigan), almost rapes Sola, painfully fraught and well performed by Lucinda Davis, is dreadfully consistent within the reality of the story. Stephanie Buxton is compelling as Ali, the youngest most emotive of the strange gang and Alex McCooeye is astonishingly intense as Taymore, the least verbal member.
The atmosphere of the bones of the hut and the impinging snowy vastness were horribly effective, as were the sound effects eerily evocative of the horrors of Northern reserves where drugs, alcohol and mercury poisoning drive many to violence. There was a tragic inevitability in the playing out of the story, and it would have had a terrific impact but for some stumbling blocks.
There seems to be a fashion in directing the actors so that they are facing upstage (away from the audience) when they speak, which is difficult enough in plays written in plain English. In a work where so much is riding on the poetry and magic of an invented language, it just inhibits the delivery in unnecessary ways. There was a particularly poignant monologue by Sola which would have been moving if she wasn’t completely masked by Julie Tamiko Manning sitting on a chair.
This is a play which goes to a very dark place in human experience and it resonates with the worst and most savage results there. It is an edgy and very postmodern work which challenges the audience to follow the drama down to its horrible conclusion. It was Lord of the Flies on ice with alcohol and glue sniffing thrown into the mix.
I am not enamoured of the acidé which inspires this kind of dark musing, but I do know that it is fashionable and very au courant. I wish that the blocking had been sharper and the play shorter, and the experience (for those of us who have actually been in the war zones), more moving.
Rock, Paper, Jackknife … plays through October 17th at Centaur Theatre. Box Office Telephone: (514) 288-3161.
Photo: Talisman Theatre