THE TALE OF TEEKA
by Michel Marc Bouchard
Les Deux Mondes
Vancouver East Cultural Centre
November 28-December 10
Since its premiere in 1991, Michel Marc Bouchard’s The Tale of Teeka has become one of Canada’s most successful plays for young audiences, having been performed in more than fifteen countries, in many languages, to great acclaim. Set in 1950s Quebec, the story of the relationship between a physically abused young boy, Maurice, and his best friend, Teeka the goose, is as rich and moving an experience for adults as it is for children.
Its latest incarnation, presented at the Cultch by the original producing company, Les Deux Mondes, provides only glimpses of its power and beauty. Visual and audio problems mar the clarity of the piece.
The tale is narrated retrospectively by Maurice as an adult, played by Normand Daoust, and in the past by Teeka (also voiced by Daoust) and Maurice as a nine-year-old, played by Yves Dagenais—like Daoust, a middle-aged man. The goose first appears, head only, as a sock-puppet on Daoust’s right hand, then later in full body, cleverly manipulated by an invisible puppeteer (Patricia Leeper).
Maurice is a lonely kid who fears his parents. When he takes off his shirt to reveal lash marks across his back, we realize why. He makes friends with the young goose Teeka, then one day when his parents are away he takes Teeka into the farmhouse, transformed by his imagination into the jungle of his beloved Tarzan comics.
Daniel Castonguay’s set provides a couple of the most magical moments in the play. The aluminum-sided farmhouse opens up like a triptych on a church altar to reveal a bathroom in distorted perspective, framed by gorgeous wood-carved panels of saints and angels. Maurice and Teeka share the tub—“the sea”—as Maurice sings “oh happy times” in a moment of perfection that we know can’t last. Then the house rotates and opens onto Maurice’s equally remarkable bedroom. But there the boy and the goose each experience a moment of betrayal. The ending will be abrupt and shocking.
In an earlier scene of sheer theatrical magic, Maurice plucks one of Teeka’s feathers, then blows gently to keep it floating aloft against a gorgeous azure sky. But other potentially magical moments get lost. The sweet, budding friendship between boy and goose is played mostly on the floor downstage, posing sightline problems for anyone (like me) sitting anywhere behind the first row.
And because Daoust, who supplies most of the narration, speaks heavily accented English, it’s often difficult to make out what he’s saying, especially in the highly dramatic scenes at the beginning and end when both actors are shouting over the soundtrack’s loud music or thunder, with lights flashing and the action frantic.
Slight changes in blocking and some adjustments in the sound mix would go a long way towards restoring the full value of tenderness and terror to this elegant tale.