Tomson Highway reveals the secrets of The (Post) Mistress
by Drew Rowsome
"It's very funny and moving," says Tomson Highway of his musical The (Post) Mistress/Zesty Gopher s’est fait écraser par un frigo. "But I don't like to blow my own horn. I'm a piano player. But the last time I blew my piano I got splinters."
Director John Van Burek (Manon, Sandra and the Virgin Mary) describes The (Post) Mistress as "completely loopy." So is talking to Highway who agrees with Van Burek's assessment, "I never thought of it that way . . . but I am." Following a short digression into the relative merits of dark beer versus good old Canadian beer and whether a glass of wine counts as an indictable vice, Highway arrives at, "I must warn you that I have a mental illness: I cannot be serious."
Maybe not serious but he is funny, insightful, flirty and has produced an incredible body of work. The (Post) Mistress is the tale of a postmistress in the small town of Lovely, Ontario, who has the ability to psychically read the sealed letters that she processes. And, naturally, the contents become dramatic and comic song and dance. "This is the 11th production from Halifax to Vancouver," notes Highway, casually leaving out that it has travelled the country leaving a trail of critical raves and ecstatic audiences. He has no idea why it is only now receiving its Toronto premiere. "I don't live in Toronto. I'm out of touch with the Toronto theatre scene. I just got here a few days ago. I am in the show but I don't like to rehearse. The show is better when somebody else does it."
Though The (Post) Mistress is set in the '60s, Highway has composed in a variety of styles. "It covers a range because I travel the world. I live in the world. Wherever, whenever, I hear music I love it. My favourite influence is Brazilian, I go to Rio every year, but I've always loved cabaret - songs that tell a story, have a narrative arc. After 'Yesterday,' 'Mack the Knife' is the most recorded song of all time. And the third? 'Girl from Impanema.' And I love Cole Porter. I try to emulate them all."
Though modest about his own skills, Highway raves about Patricia Cano who plays the titular postmistress. "She's an absolutely stunning singer and actress, a powerhouse. We've worked together for 15 years. By the time she's 50, and that's still a long ways away, she'll be Canada's Miriam Makeba. She's not a flash in the pan, she's a mother earth kind of singer who belongs on the world stage. Of course I shouldn't even be onstage, I just wrote the stuff. I feel better when somebody else plays the piano. But I hope to make you proud. I hope to make you laugh, make you cry. Bring Kleenex, you will cry tears of joy, tears of sorrow."
The (Post) Mistress/Zesty Gopher s’est fait écraser par un frigo runs in French with English surtitles from Wed, Oct 12 to Sun, Oct 23, and in English with French surtitles from Wed, Oct 25 to Sun, Nov 6, at Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley St. theatrefrancais.com, tomsonhighway.com