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Friday May 17, 2013 in Books
Canada’s most famous Aboriginal playwright, Tomson Highway, sets his latest theatrical achievement, The (Post) Mistress, in a not-so-distant past, when sending letters through the mail was still vital to communicating with friends and loved ones, and the small-town post office was often the only connection to faraway places longed-for or imagined.
Born and raised in Lovely, Ontario, a small French-Canadian farming village near Lake Huron, Marie-Louise Painchaud has never had occasion to venture much farther than the nearest community – Complexity, a copper-mining town and a somewhat larger dot on the map of the Georgia Bay area. For thirty years, Marie-Louise has worked at the local post office, and, through the many letters she sorts when they arrive and the ones that she stamps before they go out, she has come to know the lives of everyone in town and vicariously experience their various loves, losses, and personal dramas.
In this one-woman musical tour de force, Marie-Louise confides in us the interwoven stories sealed in the envelopes she handles every day. A samba beat offers the soundtrack for the tale of a local woman’s passion- ate but doomed affair with a man from Rio de Janeiro; a rhythmic tango plays as Marie-Louise divulges a friend’s steamy tryst in Argentina. All together, twelve unique musical pieces, ranging from Berlin cabaret to French café chanson to smooth bossa nova, accompany a multilingual French, Cree, and English libretto.
In The (Post) Mistress, Tomson Highway creates not only a rural comedy but also a sublime parody of small-town life – the northern Ontario version of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town or Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town.
Cast of 1 woman.
Samples of Tomson Highway’s music can also be heard on SoundCloud.
ISBN 13: 9780889227804 | ISBN 10: 0889227799
5.5 W x 8.5 H inches | 96 pp pages
$16.95 CAN / $16.95 US
Backlist | Drama | Bisac: DRA013000
QUOTES OF NOTE
“A more modest work, a show whose principal revelation is that Highway is a first-rate piano player. … Highway has written an effective series of musical pastiches.”
—The (Post) Mistress
“This is a softer, gentler work than the early plays for which [Highway] is best known … In The (Post) Mistress, you see Highway’s idea of beauty – a Peruvian-Canadian from Northern Ontario singing to a Brazilian beat in an indigenous language. It is a beautiful vision.”
—Globe and Mail
“Along with great songs and a winning performance, what’s delivered here is a celebration of Francophone Northern Ontario, and the place in it of Native cultures, languages, and spirituality. It’s also an awesome display of linguistic virtuosity …”
“Tomson Highway is at it again. … While Highway doesn’t ordinarily play the musical scores for his own theatrical pieces anymore, he made an exception for this one, he said.”
“True, innate star quality is rare but you know it when you see it. And you see it in Patricia Cano, who stars in The (Post) Mistress … The story evolves through speech and song. The play’s own playwright, Tomson Highway, plays piano … And the opening of the second act, a steamy, extraordinarily uninhibited tango of a scene set in Argentina, is an absolute scream. Thanks to Highway’s accomplished writing, the tender, sad and disturbing moments are as effective as the comedy. The dramatic arc is subtle … but this is definitely a play more than a succession of songs.”
“Highway cut his teeth by writing work that mixed the spirit of his first language, Cree – the “trickster language,” he calls it – with topics like AIDS, sexual abuse, poverty and racism in native communities. The result is a kind of magical realism which expresses the universal aspects of his stories, much in the same manner a Shakespeare play can be understood without a firm handle on the language.”
“Tomson Highway is a celebrated writer and an icon in the indigenous community. This Cree writer from northern Manitoba has written numerous plays, a novel and several children’s books. But Highway is also a master pianist, musician and songwriter. His latest offering is called The (Post) Mistress, a musical one-woman play. The multi-genre soundtrack includes songs in Cree, English and French — and, like Tomson, it defies category. Tomson Highway will be playing his grand piano on the Indigenous Music Awards (IMA) stage this year , in what is sure to be an unforgettable performance.”
“Highway’s quirky humour permeates the script … Highway also delights in playing with language …”
“The choice to set the play in Francophone Canada is reminiscent of one of Highway’s main inspirations, Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles-Soeurs. The libretto is trilingual: in English, (glossed) French, and (glossed) Cree with some words of Spanish. … the self-aware exoticism of the play and the colourfulness of its characters (reminiscent of those from The Rez Sisters) should not make one forget its dark overtones as a tragicomedy: separation, death, and abuse are omnipresent … [the play features] endearing, memorable characters [and focuses] on métissage and love. … [It offers] compelling insights into what it means to be Canadian in today’s multicultural society and into the varied possibilities of Canadian theatre.”
“Jazzy, raw, heartfelt.”
“Through song, humour, and love, this one-woman show … is simply riveting. … a moving performance about a woman who has never left small-town Canada. She has lived her life partly through the letters of others … and yet, still possesses a fire that cannot be put out.”
—Jacqueline Nelson, The Walleye
About the ContributorsTomson Highway
Tomson Highway was born near Maria Lake, Manitoba in 1951. Living a nomadic lifestyle with no access to books, television or radio, Highway’s parents would tell their children stories, kindling Highway’s life-long interest in the oral tradition of storytelling.
Tomson Highway is widely recognized for his tremendous contribution to the development of Aboriginal theatre in both Canada and around the world.
In 1994, he was inducted into the Order of Canada, the first Aboriginal writer to be so honoured.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts; the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF); and the Province of British Columbia through the British Columbia Arts Council for our publishing activities.