The intimate performance space at Dancemakers has a shiny black stage floor – like glass, like dark water. Up centre is a large boulder, to its right an olive tree and down left is a medium-sized boulder, the blue glass stones at its base telling us that there is water there. This is the setting for Rarely Pure Theatre’s production Until Our Paths Cross Again – written, directed and produced by first-time playwright and company A.D. Monique Renaud, with the assistance of some University of Windsor Acting Program pals and some Ryerson Theatre School tech program students.
Rapid gunfire sounds out as the house lights go down and we see a soldier (Stephanie Carpanini) crawling for her life on her belly. She stops moving, hit. Injured and exhausted, she passes out. She is a Canadian soldier, alone and lost somewhere in Kandahar, separated from her men during the battle. A girl (Katie Ribout) climbs the olive tree, admiring the view and picking olives. She is alone too, separated from her family. When the soldier comes to and discovers the girl, she is wary – afraid even as the girl offers first aid and water. The girl is wary and afraid too. Eventually, they are able to communicate – and it turns out the girl speaks English – and each gradually gains the other’s trust.
The script makes use of a bible story (Noah’s ark and the olive branch), Shakespeare (a playful snippet of Romeo and Juliet, with the tree serving as the balcony) and Greek mythology (a couple is rewarded for helping a god with their wish to always be together by transforming into trees). And the letter the soldier writes to her husband, with the girl suggesting the romantic opening “my love,” reminded me of a letter my grandfather wrote to my grandmother while he was stationed in the UK/Europe during WWII. He was a Captain too. The olive branch is a particularly arresting image. Initially used by the soldier as a symbol of peace, it is later employed by the girl as a make-shift play gun. She wants to be a soldier too.
The journey these two women make together as they try to get home takes them to some surprising places, with lovely, nuanced performances from both actors. As a female in male-dominated career, Carpanini balances a soldier’s trained responses and checked emotions with the fragility and humanity of someone who is far from home and missing her loved ones. Props to another Stephanie – Steph Bitten – a former UK soldier, for acting as military advisor for the production. As the girl, Ribout does a nice job inhabiting a 14-year-old on the edge of womanhood, playful and child-like – and stubborn – but possessing of a certain gravitas beyond her years.
Until Our Paths Cross Again is a lyrical, moving and thoughtful remembrance, inspired by the true story of Captain Nichola Goddard, the first female Canadian soldier to die in combat. She was 26 years old. In the program notes, we learn that “she didn’t say ‘goodbye’, she said ‘see ya later’.”
Until Our Paths Cross Again has two more performances: tonight (Nov 10) and closing tomorrow on Remembrance Day (Nov 11) – 8 p.m. at Dancemakers (in the Distillery District at 9 Trinity St., Units 313 & 314, Toronto). Tickets are PWYC, with a suggested offering of $10. No worries about getting around the warehouse studio space, there is ample signage pointing you in the right direction, with snacks and bottled water awaiting at the box office table.
My grandfather got to come home. Not all soldiers are so lucky. Who will you remember tomorrow?