You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen. But do you know Dag and Daga and the Flying Troll of Sky Mountain?
For the past two Decembers, Theatre Columbus has been mounting an outdoor promenade show that tells a clownish version of the story the birth of Jesus Christ as audiences romp around on the snow-covered pathways that wind around the frozen ponds of the Evergreen Brick Works in the Don Valley.
This year, however, they’ve chosen lesser-known source material – a fairy tale from Sweden about a pair of siblings who battle a troll that lives in in the sky. Playwright and performer Haley McGee, who was Mary last year, has relocated the story from that fjord nation to a troll-controlled Toronto and given it a title that spells out the family-friendly themes: Weather the Weather, or How We Make it Home Together.
Sister and brother Daga (Amy Lee) and Diwrnod (Kawa Ada) are lost after a catastrophic storm has thrust them into the wilderness – and Diwrnod, who has become electrified after being stuck by lightening, knows who to blame for this shocking climate change: The Sky Troll.
“The Sky Troll is a myth!” yells Daga. “No, it’s a theory,” Diwrnod insists. (I may be paraphrasing the dialogue, here: it’s impossible to take notes while wearing mittens.)
After the two are separated, Diwrnod is quickly captured by the theoretical troll – Igora (named after Toronto’s legendary bike thief, Igor Kenk) and played by Lisa Karen Cox, here wearing a pair of glowing horns and warbling opera like a raver Brunhilde.
With the help of a compass, map and costume borrowed from the wise men in last year’s show, Daga must track down Diwrnod with tag-along friends like a chili-loving prince (Courtenay Stevens) and a talking garden gnome (Colin Doyle), while avoiding a series of baddies seemingly inspired by the yip-yip-yipping aliens and two-headed monsters of Sesame Street.
Outdoor theatre in the winter is an idea that Theatre Columbus director Jennifer Brewin imported to Toronto from the Caravan Farm Theatre in Armstrong, B.C. The experience of trundling about avoiding ice in the dark with a pack of parka-clad audience members feels as Canadian as maple-flavoured bacon – and there are fire pits, cocoa and a singalong of Auld Lang Syne to make it a cozy, entertaining experience.
The show, however, is slight and silly. McGee, known for her one-woman play Oh My Irma, is interested in what binds us together in the cold – and only really alludes to the Swedish source material to craft her own creation myth. Unlike the Christmas story that Theatre Columbus has told lately, what McGee has put together doesn’t quite resonate on the same deep cultural level.
The performers are energetic, but the characters are all very one-note, constantly yelling at one another – and there’s little time to get to know any of them, before we all shuffle off to the next watching spot. Brewin’s production isn’t as artfully directed (it seems recycled), while Glenn Davidson’s lighting can be too obscure. As we get to the confusing climax – I’m not really sure how Igora was defeated, but it involved a flurry of glow sticks – I was ready to move on to the hot chocolate.
Runs until Dec. 30 at the Evergreen Brickworks; theatrecolumbus.ca.