TH’OWXIYA: The Hungry Feast Dish by Joseph A. Dandurand
Now onstage at Toronto's Young People's Theatre
Javier R. Sotres Photography. These actors are not in this production, but this photo gives you an idea of the costumes.
“A delightful First Nations tale. Amiable and genteel performances of its Indigenous storytellers are one of the highlights.”
The traditional Coast Salish and Sto:lo music sets the stage for ‘Th:owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish’ on the Ada Slaight stage.
Th:owxiya is a giant spirit. In this production, the mouth of Th:owxiya’s statue holds lovely foods from around the world. However, if anyone steals from the mouth of the statue, they will pay a terrible price as Th:owxiya has developed a taste for children.
A hungry Mouse (Cassandra Bourchier) takes a piece of cheese from Th:owxiya’s mouth and is caught. To appease the ire of Th:owxiya, the mouse must bring two children for her to eat before the second moon rises. If this does not occur, Th:owxiya will eat the mouse’s whole family. The mouse seeks assistance on her journey to trick Th:owxiya with the help of Raven (Damion Leclair), Bear (Braiden Houle) and Sasquatch (Danica Charlie).
There’s quite an array of colourful objects, set pieces and props, thanks to Production Designer Jay Havens’ careful consideration in selecting these items. When I sat down in my seat, I scanned the stage, and some items caught my attention – one was the large spindle whorl near the back. The other was the statue of Th:owxiya. At first look, it doesn't appear very comforting. However, something is intriguing about the statue each time I look at it—extraordinary colours on both props.
Havens’ set design compactly fits the Ada Slaight stage. Nothing appears cramped as the actors can maneuver around with ease of movement. The costumes are lovely. Damion Leclair’s Raven is remarkable from my seat in the house. The headpieces on Bourchier, Houle and Charlie uniquely give vibrancy to the animal characters they have created.
For the most part, playwright Joseph Dandurand’s script uniquely captures the vernacular language of children, which will sustain interest in the story. There are moments, nevertheless, when some First Nations vocabulary is introduced that could be confusing for young viewers. I had to use the Vocabulary list provided in the Study Guide before and after seeing the show for clarification – for example: Sasq’ets (Sasquatch); Kw’at’el (Mouse); Sqeweqs (Raven); Theqa:t (tree); Spa:th (Bear); Sp’oq’es (Eagle); Chitmexw (Owl). Hopefully, if children are brought to school matinées, then teachers may want to review this vocabulary prior. Parents, if you do bring children unfamiliar with the vocabulary, you may want to ask for the vocabulary list. The underlying messages behind the story are important ones of overcoming adversity together and problem-solving.
Young People’s Theatre also supports the Ancestral Teachings of First Nations. I’m pleased the company continues to fulfill this important connection, especially for those of us in the audience who want to know more about the culture. In this production, the teachings of Wisdom and Respect are reinforced.
Chris McGregor’s direction and pacing succinctly capture the whimsy and curiosity of childhood. As an adult, I got caught up in the story. Kudos to McGregor’s vision of curiosity to include everyone in the audience. The strong actor ensemble remains committed to the moment and in the moment. Several child-participatory sections are fun to watch. The actors didn’t appear unnerved by the children’s responses. The cast instinctively knew what to do to maintain the focus and to get the story back on track when necessary.
Final Comments: Charming! Creative! ‘Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish’ is another example of an appropriate storytelling moment in the First Nations culture. Even for adults like me who wish more First Nations stories were taught when I was in high school, this production provides teachable moments for adults who want to learn more.
Thank You, Young People’s Theatre, for your continued work showcasing the stories and culture of First Nations.
Running time: approximately 45 minutes with no intermission. There may be some Q and A sessions following the performance, so check when you book tickets.
The production runs until November 6 on the Ada Slaight Stage at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street East. For tickets, call the Box Office at 416-862-2222 x 2 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the theatre, visit www.youngpeoplestheatre.org.
TH’OWXIYA: The Hungry Feast Dish
An Axis Theatre Production
Written by Joseph A. Dandurand
Directed by Chris McGregor
Production Designer: Jay Havens
Music Composer: Marguerite Witvoet
Stage Manager: Sophie Kaplan
Performers: Meela Alexis, Cassandra Bourchier, Danica Charlie, Braiden Houle, Margo Kane, Damion LeClair