A Theatre Buff Reviews The Lorax

What more could you ask for from a play like The Lorax that entertains, engages and educates? Perhaps it’s the presence of a wee one to whom you’ve read the Dr. Seuss story fifty times or more. Perhaps it’s even the presence of someone who was once a youngster and who knew much of the story by heart after multiple bed-time readings.

I’ve never felt the need to see a favourite book or story be turned into a movie or play. In fact I’ve often worried when I’ve heard that it is about to happen because my own images have always been vivid. Curiosity usually prevails and I succumb,  So it was with some trepidation that I went to see The Lorax. It’s a story that has been much loved in our tree hugging family. (We planted two-hundred and thirty-six trees and berry-bearing bushes twenty eight years ago and are now surrounded by a forest.)

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(Left to Right) Laura Caldow, David Ricardo-Pearce, Ben Thompson and Simon Paisley Day. Photo by Manuel Harlan

The play, which has come to Toronto straight from London’s Old Vic, is a satisfying and visually rich production. The creators have taken some licence with the fable and created a back-story, a new middle, and revised the ending. I was not disappointed by these changes. (As I type, I have the original beside me to check out the differences!) For those readers who are not familiar with the story it’s about an enterprising young man, the Once-ler, who comes across a forest of  brightly colored Truffulo trees which he describes: “The touch of their tufts was much softer than silk. And they had the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk.” For want of a ladder to harvest the tufts he chops down a tree so he can produce a Thneed. When he finishes, a strange sort of man with a “sawdusty sneeze” pops out of the stump and declares “Mister! I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” And so the battle between capitalism and environmental protection begins.

The Once-ler is perfectly embodied by a string-bean of an actor (Simon Paisley Day). He is joined by a cast of characters who are not in the original story, but who fit the play perfectly. It’s possible though that the puppets upstage the actors! The Lorox’s three handlers are brilliant: the little “beaverish guy” absolutely pleases on every level. The Swomee-Swans swoop gracefully over the audience and the Humming-Fish leap in and out of pails and ponds. The Bar-ba-loots (actors in costume) give audio effects to illustrate the experience of  “getting the crummies.” The set and props satisfyingly re-create the “far end of town where the crickle grass grows,” the “Whisper-ma-Phone” and the glorious feeling of Truffulo trees “[m]ile after mile in the fresh morning breeze.”

The Lorax is playing at Toronto’s Royal Alex Theatre until Sunday January 21, 2018. My recommendation? Re-read the story to someone you love and then take them with you to see the production. I think you’ll be happy you did.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend. 





Book Review: The Carpenter From Montreal

Who knew that the original 4G network was a nexus of gamblers, girls, guns and gangsters, and that the Canadian hotspot was Montreal?  Until I began George Fetherling’s latest novel, The Carpenter From Montreal, I did not know that Montreal was a Babylon of the North during the 1920’s and 1930’s .

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Fetherling spins his taut tale of two lads from immigrant families who Americanize their Lebanese names to Jim Joseph and Pete Sells. Through a combination of wits and good fortune, the two men become successful bootleggers and purveyors of games of chance in a “town” somewhere south of Canada. (My bet is on Brooklyn.) It’s Jim who encounters the French carpenter on one of his early bootlegging runs. A mentoring relationship of sorts begins. Unlike the expectations one would have of someone called “The Carpenter,” this character never touches tools traditionally associated with the craft. He’s more of a fixer—behind the scenes. From him, Jim learns about moving goods across borders and keeping the wheels of justice greased. And he acquires the carpenter’s habits of elegant attire, lavish surroundings and bodyguards.

The story-telling in The Carpenter From Montreal is unconventional but compelling. Three characters—a ghost, a newspaperman, and a lawyer—recount the rise and fall of Jim and Pete against a rich backdrop of characters, conversations, and street-life. There were times when I marveled at how Fetherling, who was born after this epoch, had captured in almost cinematographic detail the corruption and swagger of the time. I was fully immersed in the period.

The Carpenter From Montreal is an engaging and entertaining examination of a period and a lifestyle from an author who is a master craftsman. (See a recent article in The Globe and Mail for an update on Montreal’s red-light district).