By Barb Nahwegahbow
Lisa Nasson in a scene from Munschtime! at Young People's Theatre; Set Design by Robin Fisher, Costume Design by Sage Paul, Lighting Design by Michel Charbonneau. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
The latest production at Toronto’s Young Peoples Theatre (YPT) has something for everyone, no matter your age, although the current offering at YPT is recommended for ages four to eight.
Munschtime! opened on April 20 and runs until May 14 on the YPT Mainstage. The fast-paced, funny and often touching 50-minute show features stories by well-known Canadian author Robert Munsch. His books have sold more than 30 million copies, and have been translated into over a dozen languages.
Several Indigenous artists were engaged in the making of Munschtime! Director Herbie Barnes is Anishinaabe from Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation on Manitoulin Island. Barnes is an actor and director with more than 30 years experience, on stage and on screen.
He jumped at the opportunity to direct the production. He loves the Munsch stories and his association with YPT. There’s no doubt Barnes got the best out of everyone involved with Munschtime! Working on the production was so much fun and a lot of laughs, Barnes said a few days before the opening.
Munschtime! features five stories told as bedtime tales. The three actors in the production each play multiple roles, bringing the bedtime stories to life. Two of the three actors are Indigenous, Cheri Maracle and Lisa Nasson. The third actor is Dov Mickelson.
Maracle is Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, and a singer as well as a Gemini award-nominated actor. Toronto-based actor Nasson studied acting at George Brown College and is also a playwright and singer.
Nasson displays the joyful exuberance of a kid allowed to sleep in a tent pitched in her grandparents’ backyard. She keeps asking for just one more bedtime story. Maracle and Mickelson play the indulgent grandparents and the stage comes to life with runaway pigs, backpacks stuffed with contraband toys, a mythical sea creature and more.
The actors give in to the strong sense of play demanded by the stories and revel in all the roles they each play. Maracle is at her very best in A Promise is a Promise which is based on an Inuit tale and was co-written by Munsch with Michael Kusagak.
Maracle plays the evil mythical sea creature who steals children, but only if they’re not with their parents. While scary at first, she becomes quite hilarious as she begins to play and dance with the dad whose kids are in danger of being taken under the sea because of a promise made by the older sister.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned in the stories – the importance of promises made, the nature of love between parents and children and the benefits to be gained from sharing.
In Too Much Stuff, a little girl, played by Nasson preparing for a trip with her mom is told she can take just two toys. Nasson is totally believable as the child who gleefully and secretly crams as many toys as she can into an ever-expanding knapsack, and later shares her toys and then receives the bounty that comes from generosity.
Two other Indigenous artists were involved in the making of the show. Dene fashion designer Sage Paul, who is the founder of Setsune Indigenous Fashion Incubator in Toronto was the costume designer. Lighting designer, Michel Charbonneau is Anishinaabe and Mohawk. His work has been seen internationally and he’s been nominated for numerous awards, including six Dora Mavor Moore awards in Toronto.
YPT is located at 165 Front Street East. For more information, visit www.youngpeoplestheatre.com.