Enjoying its world premiere at Theatre New Brunswick, Ryan Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves is a fabulously imaginative play about a young man named Lowell (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, and others) who encounters the strange and inexplicable while travelling across Canada. According to TNB, no performance during the show’s run will be the same. Dice are rolled before every performance to determine which of the more than 40 characters Lowell will meet and interview. In its entirety, the show would run over nine hours long. How long is the show actually? Approximately two hours and thirty minutes, with one intermission. So, the chances of a repeat performance are slim.
Lowell’s entire world is empty after the death of his parents. Wanting to recapture sound, Lowell sets out on a cross-country adventure from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia to Tofino, British Columbia. Along the way, he documents the lives of everyday Canadians using his voice recorder. That’s the plan, anyway. What Lowell doesn’t know is that he may in fact be documenting humanity’s last days on Earth.
Of course, no one knows right away that the world may be ending. The strangest thing Keith (Graham Percy) from Perth-Andover can tell Lowell is about a friend who claims he met God while in a coma. When not drunkenly complaining about a town that thinks it’s a city, Stacy (Michaela Washburn) from Fredericton mentions that someone from her boyfriend JP’s work disappeared recently. In Waterville, Lowell learns from a hospital worker named Emma (Kimwun Perehinec) about a patient who disappeared without a trace. It’s not until Lowell arrives in Montreal that he and other people start to realize that the reported disappearances are not isolated, but part of a larger unknown phenomenon.
What makes Fortune of Wolves a howling success is its refreshing and grounded approach to the science fiction genre. Aliens. Starships. Experiments run amok. These classic images associated with science fiction are nowhere to be found, or at least their implied presence is very minimal, in Griffith’s play. Instead, the New Brunswick playwright focuses on what’s at the very heart of science fiction: ordinary people against extraordinary circumstances. And no scene better encapsulates Fortune of Wolves than Dwight’s monologue.
Montreal resident Dwight has earned a pay raise at work. The bump in pay means that he and his girlfriend can now stay a little more ahead of their monthly bills. Tragically, Dwight’s girlfriend dies suddenly in her sleep. What is a greater unknown than death? He is reluctant to leave his girlfriend’s body to call for help, fearing that her body may disappear. Of course, it’s not about aliens abducting people. It’s not even about the world ending. For Dwight, the world has already ended, and his only connection to the world he knew and cherished is his girlfriend. It’s a powerful and very human monologue about loss that breaks the heart thanks to a delicate and nuanced performance by Gonzalez-Vio.
Anyone curious about the ‘no performance is the same’ concept should know that yes, it does actually matter. Going in, I was skeptical about the concept, because what difference does it make if I’m only going to see the play once? So what if this performance may only exist for me and none of my friends? Here’s the thing, Lowell records frequent travel updates, and in them he references events the audiences may or may not have seen in scenes prior. It’s really cool to hear Lowell speak about something I was lucky to see in this performance of the play. It’s also really cool to hear about what I didn’t get to see, to let myself imagine what else is happening to the characters that inhabit Griffith’s apocalyptic Canada. Such excitement over the play’s other stories is super dependent on the quality of the script. In that sense, it’s an incredibly risky work of drama, because frankly nine hours of material doesn’t mean a thing if no one wants to sit through any portion of it.
And so, would I see the play again? Yes. I want to hear from the other characters. I want to discover their stories. I am so curious to know the full scale of the play’s mysterious phenomenon. I wouldn’t even mind if, somehow, it was the exact same performance, because there is just so much to appreciate in the script. Griffith’s strongest quality as a playwright is writing characters who you feel like you could meet one day, either walking down the street or in your apartment building. The script’s elegant introspection will stay with you and may even call you back inside the theatre.
There is something haunting and turbulent about the atmosphere created by Composition and Sound Designer Deanna Choi. Somehow, Choi makes TNB’s Open Space Theatre feel at once intimate (which the space is) and very large. Perhaps it’s the melodic eeriness that follows Lowell combined with the violent rumbling, that feels as if the whole world is trembling, that comes periodically. David Degrow’s lighting design adds to the production’s otherworldly atmosphere with its moody character and emphasis on silhouettes.
Director Thomas Morgan Jones’ approach to staging Fortune of Wolves is economical. When not delivering monologues, the non-speaking actors perform movements either in the background or around the actor speaking, and/or they represent an extension of Lowell. While Jane (Perehinec) explains the Fermi Paradox and Great Filter to Lowell, the other actors run in circles on stage, swirling around her like stars and Lowell’s brain trying to grasp the cosmic significance of these two theories. Other times, the non-speaking actors perform small, repeating movement patterns.
This cast that TNB has brought together is immensely versatile. Gonzalez-Vio disappears into his characters, transforming head-to-toe from scene to scene, and portrays Lowell’s disintegration with vigor. Perehinec’s confident and engaging stage presence makes her shine as Jane and Casey, an army medic with no left to report to. Perehinec’s Casey is an endearing character that anyone would want by their side at the end of the world. Percy is seriously, seriously frightening as the unhinged and sadistic Ed who nearly ends Lowell’s journey prematurely. Washburn’s Zoe speaks profound truths with a smile and peppiness that makes one almost forget that the actress also really knows how to play a cantankerous old woman.
Anything is possible in science fiction. The genre embraces the extraordinary and imagines circumstances and worlds so unlike our own. And yet, in works of science fiction, we often find ourselves and truths that have deep meaning towards the way we live. Griffith’s Fortune of Wolves is one such work of science fiction that holds profound meaning for both today’s world and the world of tomorrow. Theatre New Brunswick’s world premiere production is a must-see.
Theatre New Brunswick’s Fortune of Wolves runs October 12 – 22 at the Open Space Theatre in Fredericton. Then, the production will tour New Brunswick from October 24 – 30. For more information, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/fortune-of-wolves/