Review: "Bears" at the Factory Theatre

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  • Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic

Factory Theatre has billed ‘Bears’ as a multi-disciplinary adventure. I’ll go one step further and say that it became a thrilling theatrical experience of movement and voice for me thanks to playwright and director Matthew MacKenzie’s creative direction.

Floyd (Sheldon Elter) is the prime suspect in a workplace accident who flees through the Rockies to escape and evade the RCMP. On his journey west towards the Pacific, Floyd looks back on his childhood, meets some unlikely companions and is transformed by his experiences through nature and through the industrial expansion in his journey.

The journey upon which we travel with Floyd began as soon as I entered the Mainspace auditorium. Noor Dean Musani’s soundscape design of birds twittering and wind rustling through the leaves brought me immediately to a setting far away removed from the near end winter hustle outside on Bathurst Street. I was particularly intrigued with the suggested representation of the mountains centre stage. I thought suspended wisps of clouds were hanging stages left and right, but the lighting design of the foliage lines suggested otherwise. Very clever use of the playing space.

Once the performance began, I was mesmerized and fascinated with the use of poetry, stylized movement in choreography and the nearly 75 minutes flew by so quickly I had no idea the time had elapsed.  There is so much to enjoy about this production.  As central character Floyd, Sheldon Elter is a robust, dynamic, and magnetic performer who commanded my attention when he entered the stage. I wanted to hear his story and he held my attention throughout. 

Equally as compelling is Tracey Nepinak as Floyd’s mother. Ms. Nepinak has a lovely speaking voice and her performance is natural and believable as she appears periodically in her son’s mind and memory as he endures his journey towards the west. What is quite touching about this production is the way Matthew MacKenzie weaves a poignant familial thread between the two protagonists.  No matter what may befall a child, a mother’s love, care, compassion and understanding always underlines our every move.

Monica Dottor’s choreography and movement is simply stellar. These eight lithe, nimble and agile dancers create a setting or an object with beautiful fluidity of motion. What enchanted me the most about the dancers is the look on each of their faces.  When the moment is a tense one, the look in each of their eyes was uniformly solid.  Thankfully in a story such as this which has a great deal of drama within, the chorus provides much needed laughter with their work. Certain audience members beware as their language at times is colourful.

Final Comments: ‘Bears’ is a thrilling theatrical experience of light, sound, movement and voice.  It’s an important one for we Canadians to continue our link in our connection to our Canadian Indigenous culture.

‘Bears’ continues to March 17 in the Mainspace at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto. For tickets, call the Box Office at 416.504.9971 or visit www.factorytheatre.ca for further information.

Running time is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.

Photo of Sheldon Elter and the chorus of ‘Bears’ by Alexis McKeown

Composer/Sound Designer: Noor Dean Musani, Choreographer: Monica Dottor, Costume Designers: Monica Dottor and Brianna Kolybaba, Environmental Designer: T. Erin Gruber