By Jay Menard
Beaver Dreams (La Fievre du Castor) is a wonderfully engaging production that combines puppetry, visuals, costumes, and humour to present a show that combines warmth, laughter, and gently delivers a message of environmentalism.
It’s not a preachy show by any means. The focus is on humour and an incredible array of brilliant visual elements. But, at the root of it, is a story that holds up a mirror to human’s desire to “own” pristine pieces of the environment (and keep others — and development — at bay), with that of the wilderness who already call these places home.
The show follows the story of one family’s personal oasis in the woods. The family is that of Lost & Found Puppet Co.’s Maggie Winston, and she combines actual interviews with generations of family members who share their stories of spending time in the Laurentians at their pristine cottage by the lake.
The other half of this story is a beaver family, who predates Winston’s family. And what ensures is a battle of sorts — the annual back-and-forth between beavers being beavers, building dams and lodges, and the family destroying one dam to lower the lake level and allow for personal use.
Amongst all of this, there’s the threat of industrialization — the approach of more development and people. Whether the beavers know it or not, they and the family are on the same side.
That’s the “serious” foundation of the story, but its presentation is absolutely charming, hilarious, and heartwarming. Winston and Rae-Anna Maitland appear in full beaver costume to tell the story, but they also deftly manipulate a variety of puppets, projections, and animation. It’s a visual feast of entertainment that was beloved by youth and adults alike. And the show is trilingual (English, French, and Beavery gibberish) and it’s delightful to see the interplay of languages at work.
It’s a family friendly show, but it somehow manages to straddle that line so it’s not skewed one way or the other. There’s a lot of visual humour that the kids will appreciate, and there are a number of jokes, asides, and visual elements that the adults will appreciate.
Even mistakes are warmly embraced and deftly handled — is there a beaver equivalent for PoliGrip? The duo’s ability to go with the flow, integrate the audience, and manipulate several moving parts without it ever seeming forced or awkward is a testament to their talent as performers and storytellers.
The actual translation of the show’s French title is Beaver Fever — and it’s certainly a ‘disease’ that’s well worth catching!
This review will also appear on theatreinlondon.ca