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Theater Review

'Teeka' Tells a Moving Tale of Child's Pain

Quebec's Les Deux Mondes troupe turns a tragic theme into a disturbing but beautifully wrought theater piece.

April 03, 2001|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The sky darkens. Lightning flashes. A distraught young boy, on the roof of a farmhouse, stretches his arms toward the stormy sky, crying out to "the god of the jungle" to let lightning destroy the house.

But the destructive force that the boy hoped to control strikes him as he reenters the house: blows on his head, on his body. The blows are unseen; a shocking sense of terror and pain comes in a sudden, shattering blend of vocal and instrumental sound.

In "The Tale of Teeka," Quebec's Les Deux Mondes company has transformed a fraught subject--child abuse--into a disturbing, hauntingly beautiful theater piece, creating a portrait of a physically abused boy's inner and outer life with powerful aural and visual design, mythic themes, storytelling and puppetry.

Touring internationally since its creation in 1991, the one-hour play, written by Michel Marc Bouchard, had its Southern California premiere Saturday at the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts.

With two actors (and a puppeteer) and two set pieces, the show would be a better fit in a smaller venue, and the French-speaking actors' accents at times lose clarity in the English translation, done by Linda Gaboriau. But the theatrical and emotional impact of this self-labeled "tale for humiliated children" is adult and wrenching. (Parents are advised that youngsters age 10 and up may come, but 14 is a safer limit; this is not a children's play.)

"Teeka" begins as adult Maurice (Normand Daoust), dressed in somber black, revisits his troubled childhood home (the set pieces are a small barn and a large metal farmhouse), remembering his child self and his tragic friendship with a goose named Teeka.

After watching young Maurice (Yves Dagenais) beg destruction from his fantasy god--Daoust creates the storm's sound effects by thrumming and drumming on the house's metal walls--adult Maurice's reminiscences become Teeka's observations.

Although Teeka is simply a sock-style puppet on Daoust's arm at first, Daoust infuses him with quirky, even comic life; as the play progresses, Teeka becomes a rod puppet on wheels, then a full-body puppet with wings, manipulated by unseen puppeteer Patricia Leeper. Daoust continues to speak for him, giving the goose deeply affecting dimension. As the play moves toward its inexorable end, Teeka again becomes Daoust's arm puppet, but with a great feathered wing.

As the puppet goose evolves, and as director Daniel Meilleur seamlessly guides Bouchard's poetic script from reality to fantasy and nightmare, Teeka's relationship with young Maurice grows more complex. Moving finally to a wholehearted, human embrace of Maurice's world, Teeka is caught up in his own dreams of flight, while Maurice struggles with the urge to inflict the pain inflicted on him.

Dagenais, playing against his solid, muscular build, makes a child's fear and denial palpable: powerful as Tarzan, panicked at approaching abuse and cynically calculating what new toy his parents' subsequent guilt will get him.

Daoust is stirring and graceful as storyteller, as a child's pet who becomes something more and as an adult still trying to put together the pieces of a broken childhood.

The intensity and effectiveness of the play are equally due to its design elements: Michel Robidoux's stunning sound design and score; lighting designer David d'Anjou's revelatory moments of white light and changing backgrounds of red and blue; and set designer Daniel Castonguay's unsettling farmhouse, which opens to reveal out-of-time friezes and confining, foreshortened rooms.

The unique play has one more Southland stop, tonight and Wednesday at Cal State Northridge's Performing Arts Center.

*

"The Tale of Teeka," Cal State Northridge, Performing Arts Center (Parking Lot C at Zelzah Avenue and Plummer Street), today and Wednesday at 8 p.m. Tonight is sign-interpreted, with a post-show discussion on domestic violence. $17. (818) 677-2488.

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