Review: Heartless wraps up an ambitious, epic trilogy

Early Canadian settler history and its connection to Indigenous populations comes alive in the conclusion of Genevieve Adam's lively New France trilogy

Review: Heartless wraps up an ambitious, epic trilogy
Darcy Gerhart and author Genevieve Adam help bring early Canadian history to life in Heartless. Photo by Dahlia Katz

This post is sponsored by CBC podcast PlayME, which launched its latest season earlier this week with the first part of Uncle Vanya, Liisa Repo-Martell's acclaimed adaptation for Crow's Theatre. (See more info below.)

You know how a returning TV series will begin a new season with a quick recap of what's come before? That would have been helpful before seeing Genevieve Adam's Heartless (Rating: ✭✭✭), the final play in her New France trilogy that began with Deceitful Above All Things (2015) and continued with Dark Heart (2018).

✅ = Critic's pick / ✭✭✭✭✭ = outstanding, among best of the year / ✭✭✭✭ = excellent / ✭✭✭ = recommended / ✭✭ or ✭ = didn't work for me

Although I remember seeing – and enjoying – both plays, Heartless, fine enough as a stand-alone work, would have benefitted from that quick refresher. And judging from her efficient, pithy writing, Adam, who acted in all three shows and provides a thoughtful pre-show land acknowledgement for this one, could have delivered an intro to make all the themes and narrative elements snap suggestively into place.

As is, Adams deftly interweaves several stories. In the play's startling first scene, fierce Wendat warriors and cousins Sheauga (Montana Adams) and Oheo (Theresa Cutknife) have captured a runaway priest named Nicolas (Scott Garland). We also follow an independent widow named Martinette (Darcy Gerhart), who runs her husband's trading post now that he's disappeared (he's assumed dead, but his body was never found). Marinette receives a proposal by a lusty, roguish trapper Lionel (Jordan M. Burns), and also gets visited by a Mohawk nun named Catherine (Brianne Tucker), who's in search of a lost village called Hochelaga.

Scott Garland (left), Theresa Cutknife and Montana Adams star in Heartless. Photo by Dahlia Katz

Central to all of their stories is the unconventional Anne (Adam herself), Martinette's mother and Oheo's adoptive parent. She knows what happened to her daughter's husband and will use every means possible to make sure it's kept secret.

Much of the joy of watching this show comes from Adam's lively, punchy dialogue, studded with one-liners and even f-bombs.

When Martinette says she's lonely, her knowing mother replies, "Marriage doesn't fix that. That's why there's needlepoint."

Director Tyler J. Seguin orchestrates the action smoothly, which is impressive because it moves from forest to store to humble dwelling in Kalina Popova's spare but effective set, Maddie Bautista's sound design often underscoring key moments.

Especially effective is the way Seguin handles the play's intimate moments, be they sensual/sexual (Kayla Thomas is credited as intimacy captain) or combative (Tucker is the fight captain).

While I've already suggested that a pre-show recap could have solidified the links between the trilogy's parts, a bit more care could also have gone to making the performances feel consistent.

That could all be remedied if some company took a gamble and decided to program all three plays in one season. Adam brings a vigour, momentum and much-needed feminist perspective to early Canadian settler history and its interactions with Indigenous populations.

It's an epic achievement.

Favour the Brave Collective's production of Heartless continues at the Aki Studio (585 Dundas East) until January 14. See info here

The original cast of Crow's Theatre's Uncle Vanya recorded the show for CBC podcast PlayMe. Courtesy of Expect Theatre

PlayME season premiere

If you're not quite ready to brave the rain and snow for some theatre, why not stay at home, snuggle up on the sofa and listen to some hit Canadian plays?

Yes, PlayME, the CBC podcast devoted to audio versions of the best of Canadian theatre, just launched its latest season this week with the first part of Uncle Vanya, Liisa Repo-Martell's acclaimed adaptation of the Chekhov play, which was a huge hit for Crow's Theatre back in the fall of 2022. (If you want to see the show live, you're in luck; it's currently at Hamilton's Theatre Aquarius, and then transfers to the CAA Theatre as part of Mirvish's Off-Mirvish season in February.)

While the design elements of Chris Abraham's production were stunning (Julie Fox and Joshua Quinlan won a deserving Dora for scenic design), I found the podcast version incredibly intimate and effective. I'd forgot how much mention there is of country doctor Astrov's voice, and actor Ali Kazmi's scratchy, accented pipes certainly live up to all that attention. Plus, the comic elements – particularly Anand Rajaram's foolish Waffles – help balance the pathos of the rest of the characters.

The second half premieres next Wednesday (January 17) and the following week co-hosts and producers Chris Tolley and Laura Mullin will interview Repo-Martell.

The rest of the season includes: the 20th anniversary production of Trey Anthony's 'Da Kink in My Hair (beginning February 7); Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova's First Métis Man of Odesa (March 6); Paolo Santalucia's Prodigal (April 3); Diane Flacks's solo show, Guilt: A Love Story (May 1).

And once again, if you can't wait for the rest of the season to drop, you can always download plays from earlier seasons at the show's CBC site and wherever you get your podcasts.