The Mill, Part 3: The Woods

Published: March 28th 2010
in Culture » Stage

Ryan Hollyman as Charles and Michelle Latimer as Marie

Theatrefront’s The Mill series is a good example of a theatre company doing a lot with a little. The productions don’t look very glossy or high-budget, but the first two plays in this ghost story serial were original and well-acted, making great use of an intimate theatre space, spooky but seldom hokey special effects, and a creative, well-conceived, atmospheric set.


The third part of the series, however, is a bit of a disappointment after the first two parts. The Woods takes place in 1640 in what was then New France, before the mill has even been built. Lyca (Holly Lewis) and her mother Marie (Michelle Latimer) are the two surviving Wendat women of their tribe, and have spent the last 12 years quite contentedly relying on each other. Their cozy twosome is shaken when a French ethnographer, Charles (Ryan Hollyman), becomes separated from his group and stumbles into their patch of land, which is also a First Nations burial ground and the site of the future mill.


Even though he means no harm, poor Charles spends much of the play tied up and getting taunted by Lyca and threatened by her mother, who remembers the anguish his kind spread on her tribe – at least until Marie warms up to him, despite the two not understanding a word of the other’s language. This unleashes a new feeling in Lyca, who resents his intrusion into their life and what she perceives as a hold over her mother. As anyone who’s seen the first two plays can attest, it’s not a good idea to incite Lyca’s anger.


The Woods is a lot more heavy-handed in its handling of Native issues and its critique of the French settlers than the first two, and takes itself more seriously. There are nowhere near as many laughs (or scares), and a lot more talk than action. On one hand, this makes the play more thoughtful and studied than the first two in the series; on the other, it’s also not quite as absorbing.


Michelle Latimer does a good job of portraying the strong-willed mother, though her gradual attraction to Charles feels a little too pat. Holly Lewis also does a good job at keeping Lyca just on the edge between innocence and instability. We learn a more about Lyca’s attachment to the little white birds and why and how she shows up in the later segments. Hollyman also gives a strong performance as the compassionate intruder (and gets one of the funnier scenes in the play, when he thinks Marie is trying to seduce him), but the script overdoes his dialogue, making his constant nervous babbling a bit irritating after awhile. The main problem with all three of these speaking parts is playwright Tara Beagan’s tendency to use modern terms and slang in a seventeenth-century setting. It just doesn’t fit.


On the plus side, the set is very evocative, with the actors playing trees imbuing their roles with an eerie expressiveness, and Frank Cox-O’Connell, who joins the cast as a priest, is very funny. This play fits nicely into the series by deepening the history behind this piece of land that was only hinted at in The Huron Bride, and in ways we wouldn’t expect. In its setup, then, The Woods is a nice complement to the other two. But while parts one and two are here in limited runs, I would suggest prioritizing them to get the most out of The Mill.


The Woods runs until Apr. 3 at the Tank House Theatre, Young Centre for the Arts. For more information, visit Click here for our review of Part 1: Now We Are Brody, and click here for our interview with actor Richard Greenblatt.

Related articles: (stage, theatre, the mill, richard greenblatt)

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