Patricia Cano in The (Post) Mistress, Vancouver

Arts Club Theatre audiences were treated to Tomson Highway’s The (Post) Mistress, the second Arts Club production in the newly-opened Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre. The space has been recreated as a cabaret style theatre, complete with several tables around the stage and regular seating sections behind them on three sides.

A postal worker’s desk, piano and sack of mail create a minimal stage set courtesy of Set Designer Ted Roberts (who’s also tasked with the production’s lighting and video design).

The show begins with Marie-Louise Painchaud introducing the post office of Lovely, Ontario — her post office. With a population of 2,000, Lovely, Ontario, a northern Ontario town with a predominately Francophone community, is one hour east of larger town Complexity, Ontario, where our main character attended high school. About to turn 50, she’s lived in Lovely all of her life.

Patricia Cano in The (Post) Mistress, Vancouver
[Patricia Cano in The (Post) Mistress]

As Painchaud (brilliantly performed by Patricia Cano) begins to recount her family history and small-town life, the two-person band on the other side of the stage (Pianist Bill Sample, Saxophonist Bill Runge) work with her, as she moves from spoken word to song. 31 years of working at the postal office in a small town and you definitely get to know the locals!

Painchaud reveals the characters in the letters throughout the show, vicariously living through them. Her songs are sung in French, English and in Cree. Cano has performed in this role in both French and English in Peterborough, Ontario and Sudbury, Ontario respectively. The role involves comedic timing, lots of physical gesture and a great voice, all of which Cano possesses in spades.

Her charismatic personality quickly comes forth; she has quite the way with words and comically decides who she likes and dislikes in the town.

She peeks through closed letters, imagining a whole world of love, loss, infidelity and suburban life all rolled into one. Particularly endearing is the song Oh Little Bear, told as a lullaby. Soon enough, the quiet, loving tone is broken by a whiff of Nina Ricci’s L’Air Du Temps on another envelope, bringing pangs of jealousy to our chanteuse.

Playwright Tomson Highway’s experiences in Lovely are told through Painchaud; in 2001, Highway was named as one of the 100 most important people in Canadian history by MacLean’s magazine.

The show’s music was honoured with a 2015 Juno Award nomination for Aboriginal Album of the Year. Cano also performed in the world premiere of Highway’s Rose as the character of Emily Dictionary. She’s toured the world alongside Highway since 2001, performing his songs in Cree Cabaret form.

The (Post) Mistress is an intimate work, directed by John Cooper and choreographed by the talented Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, who I had the pleasure to watch perform in Porno Death Cult at Firehall Arts Centre two years ago.

Cailin Stadnyk in The (Post) Mistress, Vancouver
[Cailin Stadnyk]

Cailin Stadnyk stands in for Marie-Louise Painchaud in select performances through the run, continuing until February 28 at the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre in Vancouver’s Olympic Village. Photos by Emily Cooper.

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