The (Post) Mistress: a love letter to life delivered by a larger than life diva
by Drew Rowsome - Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
The post office in the small town of Lovely, Ontario is the workplace of a zany if sexually frustrated, post mistress. She loves to gossip about her neighbours and frequently breaks out into song and dance. As inhabited by the remarkable Patricia Cano, she is someone you want to meet even though sealing your mail will not prevent her from learning, and probably divulging, your secrets.
The (Post) Mistress is fluently trilingual and the French title, Zesty Goppher s'est fair écraser par un frigo (Zesty Gopher got squashed by a fridge), gives more of the flavour of the piece even though it also gives away one of the best jokes. Though, the English title's pun is crucial to one of the themes, so it is a toss-up . . . The (Post) Mistress is not only trilingual linguistically - utilizing English, French and Cree but with sur-titles to keep any monolinguists up to speed - but also in execution: there is ample comedy, tragedy and drama presented as monologues, songs and dance.
Cano is extraordinary. Before the first number has ended, the audience is firmly in her grasp as she confides, cajoles and continually astounds. Supremely confident and utterly vulnerable, she shares her inner emotional life by describing the lives that revolve around her. The opening of the second act had the audience bursting into applause as it built to an orgasmic climax: Cano is that spectacular. Though it is an overused and dated - though The (Post) Mistress is set in the late '80s which is probably the last time any of us actually used Canada Post - word, Cano is fierce.
It helps that she is working with remarkable material. Tomson Highway's book is full of insight, grounded in geography and small town lineages, and manages to make the fantastical utterly believable. The twist towards the end is the only mis-step, though it is a necessary one and The (Post) Mistress recovers with a finale that is a powerful mixture of catharsis, life-affirmation and heartbreak. It is also quintessentially Canadian in that honest, gentle satirical vein that beats from Steven Leacock through to Schitt's Creek.
Highway and saxophonist Marcus Ali provide the music but wind up being foils to Cano's towering presence. Highway flat out lied to me about his musical prowess, he and Ali provide solid support for Cano to soar. And their few interactions are self-deprecating and comical. Highway sits at the piano in a very zen-like fashion, taking in the action unfolding as if it is the most extraordinary and odd thing he has ever seen. And as if he is seeing it for the first time which adds a layer of charm to underline Cano's diva with a heart.
There is a remarkable gay reference that caught me by surprise, made me laugh out loud, and then left a lump in my throat. That lump became the verge of tears when the entire piece was reframed by the aforementioned twist. That the reference is slid in so subtly and yet induced so much hilarity followed by real emotion, is reflective of the spirit of The (Post) Mistress. Highway has created a love letter to life and love, and Cano incarnates that missive with gusto and aplomb. It would be wise to take delivery of that letter while one has the chance, The (Post) Mistress also contains a warning that magic should be embraced and held onto when it so rarely comes around.
The (Post) Mistress runs until Sun, Nov 6 at the Berkeley St Theatre, 26 Berkeley St. theatrefrancais.com