photo by Alexis-McKeown

The Theatre Centre has started 2018 off with a bang. Bears, the newest creation by Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts and Punctuate! Theatre, is everything you could hope for in a theatre production. It is filled with surprises, twists and wonder.

Floyd, played by the talented Sheldon Elter, is being hunted through the wilderness of western Canada. It is an adventure, a high-speed chase, a pursuit. Be prepared to be on the edge of your seat as Floyd slowly drops clues about why he is being chased and who he is. We learn that he is an industrious oil worker, his mother died young, that he’s connected to the land of his indigenous heritage, that he loves bears. Floyd narrates the story, and, perhaps because he tells his story in third person, he is perceived as an all-knowing narrator. At the same time, the third person narration brings up an element of disassociation through trauma. He sees his story as if he isn’t part of it. The narration is absolutely brilliant and provocative; Floyd’s original voice is something that Canada and the world need more of.

Elter gives a commanding performance, authentic, heart warming, and charming. Elter constantly punches out lines that stick to your ribs and churn preconceived notions in your head. This is a story told by a fugitive and yet the audience’s hearts are wrapped around Floyd’s little finger.

Floyd is also a perfect character to tell a story that shows the complexity of being Canadian. Peace loving, gentle Canadians… that hunt their own for protesting the destruction of the environment. And it shows the richness of Canadian indigenous culture, using the connection to the land and animals, specifically bears, as a survival tool for Floyd.  

Supporting Floyd, is an exceptional chorus. At face value, Bears combines the greek chorus with the ballet corps, to provide narrative insight through out the adventures of Floyd. Sounds parr for the course… until the dancers speak. In monotone voices, they deliver satirical content suitable for The Daily Show. Expertly written by playwright Matthew Mackenzie and delivered with emptiness and dead panned faces by wonderful dancers. Their priceless one line speeches are heightened by staying within the form of the ballet corps. They literally become part of the set as flowers, otters, RCMPs, and even chickadees, for a priceless chickadee rave. But it is done to show these tropes as ludicrous and absurd, challenging the form.

Bears is an absolute must-see production. The production team took calculated creative risks that paid off in spades. If you have a chance to this show, either in Toronto or on it’s Canadian tour, go. The dynamic team make every moment worth it.