Theatre New Brunswick begin a new season with the homegrown, sci-fi thriller, Fortune of Wolves.
Theatre New Brunswick’s 49th season opens October 12 with the world premiere production of Fortune of Wolves. Written by New Brunswick playwright Ryan Griffith, the play is like nothing else the company has ever produced. That’s saying a lot, considering Theatre New Brunswick have been producing plays since 1969.
So what exactly sets this story apart from the pack? Just about everything. Besides being huge (the play’s running time is almost 3 hours with an intermission), the story involves dozens of characters from dozens of communities throughout Eastern and Central Canada, each with a tale to tell. As the play progresses, it becomes apparent that the world is changing in unsettling ways. There are UFO sightings in Woodstock, and strange disappearances in Wakefield, unexplained sirens in the night in McAdam, and unsettling characters in coffee shops and roadside restaurants.
For this production, Theatre New Brunswick welcomes three Toronto-based actors each making their company debut. Carlos Gonzolez-Vio, Kimwun Perehinec and Michaela Washburn will join returning New Brunswick born actor Graham Percy (The Boat, Beaverbrook) for a combined total of 17 performances at the company’s Open Space Theatre in Fredericton and on tour throughout the province.
Simply put, Fortune of Wolves is an epic sci-fi journey through much of rural New Brunswick and follows a young archivist’s travels as he stops to interview people along the way. The play is a recounting of events told by both the protagonist Lowell Garish and the people he meets.
“I think it’s probably best to describe it as an odyssey,” said Carlos Gonzolez-Vio, who together with the cast and crew have been rehearsing the play six days a week since September 18. “Before coming out here I would tell people that I’m going to New Brunswick to do this really exciting show and I would try to describe it to them. I would say it’s a series of monologues that takes a 171 pages and it’s about this kid that tries to drive across the country and the people he meets along the way.”
As far as scripts go, 171 pages is anywhere from three to five times the length of an average play. That’s a lot of work, even for four actors. Especially when you consider that the multitude characters in the story don’t necessarily appear in each performance. The play is deigned in such a way that each performance will be a completely unique telling of the story.
This latest work from Griffith – his third to be produced by the company in as many seasons – finds the cast rolling dice prior to each individual performance to determine which characters will appear on stage. Factor in the 50+ characters who appear in the Fortune of Wolves script, and there are more than a million possible versions of the show. Something closer to 25 million to be exact. This challenging work in turn presents the cast with a completely different dynamic in the rehearsal process. Unlike traditional play structures where actors run through scenes from the same story day after day during the rehearsal process, Fortune of Wolves is every-changing.
“In terms of Ryan’s work, it is incredibly surprising. I don’t know how he’s managed to contain all of this. As an actor I’m delighted by that and astounded by the achievement of it, and humbled that I am so limited in what I can carry.” – Graham Percy
“[As an actor] how you’re responding is going to be different every night because the energy and text you’re responding to could be different even if you’re in the same physical position,” said Michaela Washburn. “I’m inspired every day. This is a monumental task and when I first came in to rehearsals I didn’t know how this was ever going to be possible.”
“There’s so much material and it’s such a huge vision that we simply can’t hold it all at once,” said actor Graham Percy. “The four of us together can present the world but by myself, I’m surprised every day by aspects of the story, themes that reoccur and echoes between the monologues.
“In terms of Ryan’s work, it is incredibly surprising,” said Percy. “I don’t know how he’s managed to contain all of this. As an actor I’m delighted by that and astounded by the achievement of it, and humbled that I am so limited in what I can carry.”
With development funding received through ArtsNB, Griffith was able to travel the path his lead character follows, moving through Nova Scotia, much of New Brunswick and further westward. By meeting with people in each of these places, we has able to create each character as a portrait of their hometown.
“It’s actually the portraits of the people,” said Kimwun Perehinec in describing what stands out to her after two weeks of rehearsal. “How much insight and how much specificity there is in this really brief encapsulation of a person. The writing is really strong. It’s so detailed in terms of who these people are and how they express themselves.
“From the beginning in reading these pieces, I would read and start working on something and found the more I was trying to put myself into the character, the more admiration I would have for how these people speak and how potent it is,” she said. “It’s very clear and economical even though there’s a lot of text.”
The province of New Brunswick and mysterious, super-natural elements have been reoccurring themes in Griffith’s work over the past several years through his plays produced for Next Folding Theatre Company.
“Part of what Fortune attempts to do, is to show how people from all of these different places are similar, on certain levels. It tries to find a common human experience.” – Ryan Griffith
“Fortune of Wolves, in a way, is the first play I’ve written in a while that doesn’t try to mythologize the landscape of New Brunswick so much,” said Griffith, speaking in an August 2017 interview for Theatre New Brunswick. “All of the places in the play are real places. The protagonist actually travels to Alma. He spends the night in Fundy National Park. He works in a motel in Perth-Andover. He stays at a bed and breakfast in Gananoque.
“You have to be very careful when you write about real places sometimes,” he said. “The last thing you want to do is exploit people. Or have your audience stereotype people from a certain town because of the way you’ve drawn fictional characters that you determine have come from there.
“There’s a universality Fortune is striving for,” said Griffith. “It uses the genres of sci-fi/horror to help people understand it’s ultimately just a story. But it also uses real locations to encourage people to think about these very real places in fantastic ways. New Brunswick, in particular, can be a very regional province. We might think of people from the Miramichi or from the Carleton County or from Saint John in a certain light, even though, in Fredericton, we’re a short drive away from all of these places. Part of what Fortune attempts to do, is to show how people from all of these different places are similar, on certain levels. It tries to find a common human experience. And through the imagination of its protagonist, Lowell, I think it does.”
Fortune of Wolves | October 12-22, 2017 | Fredericton | Open Space Theatre – 55 Whiting Road | 7:30 p.m | View Event
October 24 | Woodstock, NB | View Event
October 25 | St. Andrews, NB | View Event
October 26 | Saint John, NB | View Event
October 27 | Moncton, NB | View Event
October 28 | Bathurst, NB | View Event
October 29 | Miramichi, NB | View Event
October 30 | Sackville, NB | View Event