Also published at Apt613.ca
Searching for Snails is a fable of co-existence, self-discovery and ecological respect. Its a story for child and inner child alike from Ottawa Stilt Union. Luckily, this journey of predatory human nature versus planetary needs is also a cavalcade of darkly entertaining performances replete with ingenious puppetry, larger-than-life characters, comedy, dance, song and haunting stilt walking.
The story is simple–business man Maximilien (author Guy Marsan) is sent by tenacious client Cecilia (Laura Astwood) to a rural village to appropriate the Great Northern Snail and produce a synthetic version of their treasured “slime”. As he embarks on his mission it becomes clear that life may not be so straightforward in this odd town. Puppets, Anglophone Harold (Gabrielle Lalonde) and his Francophone wife Maude (Elise Gauthier), set the bilingual tone as they narrate the protagonists search whilst lending him a not always so helpful hand.
Maximilien meets in rapid succession strange beings including Marvin (Doreen Taylor-Claxon) a flightless and witless bird, the foreboding tree Gnarbre and the not so simple townsfolk. The pace of adventures is well mapped whilst the physicality of the troupe ensure tangible action is as entertaining as the storyline. In many respects the production is as much a collection of visual performances as it is a story.
The corporeal aspect of the show is exceptional. Ottawa Stilt Union has a evocative physical tradition that is fully exploited in Snails. Maximilien embodies a plane, Cecilia becomes that menacing, shrill oversized cell phone and of course Gnarbe (Laura Montgomery) towers distinctly apart above the human comedy. Song and dance numbers are ingenious, comical and refreshingly succinct. Taylor-Claxon’s & Marsan’s musical number “Ce que tu ferais si tu savais que tu ne pouvais pas échouer” is particularly clever.
The production is natural in its bilingualism, shifting organically from English to French much like a conversation between multi-linguists. The conciseness of the storytelling wed to the brute physical action and substantial props ensures the unilingual attendees won’t miss a beat.
Marsan proves to be a witty playwright making his allegory work by combining a proper measure of clever contemporary references and droll asides to fairy-tale story-telling. His writing ensures the production works for both children and adults alike.
There is an important conciseness. Despite all the questions posed – will Maximilien be successful in his quest, will the villagers trade exclusive fauna for a “bain tourbillion”, will the screeching Cecilia ever be satisfied and can man reconcile his modern needs with those of the planet? – the performance is a succinct affair that packs mesmerising action into a tidy hour-long production.
Searching for Snails – Ottawa Stilt Union
Arts Court Theatre, 2 Daly Ave.