The Mill, Part 4: Ash
The Canadian ghost story saga concludes in an apocalyptic future.
The Mill knows how to set a mood. Since its inception in the fall of 2009, the four-part play series about a haunted mill in small-town Ontario uses the tiny Tank House Theatre in the Distillery District to brilliant effect, showing how some well-placed special effects, moody lighting and sound, and clever uses of multimedia can make the most of what was presumably a small budget.
Arriving onstage several months later than originally expected, “Ash,” the final play in the four-part cycle, is worth the wait. To recap, the first three plays in the series (“Now We Are Brody,” “The Huron Bride,” and “The Woods”) took place in the 17th and 19th centuries, illuminating how the mill evolved from a massive burial ground of the Wendat tribe to a haunted mill that claimed the lives of everyone who tried to claim it as their own. “Ash” (written by Damien Atkins and directed by Vikki Anderson) takes place in an imagined apocalyptic future. The mill is still recognizable as its former self (and a neat effect of watching in such a small theatre is that you feel like you’re almost inside the set), but this time a hardscrabble group of survivors are taking refuge from a barren and dangerous outside world.
Included in the group are Bird (Michelle Monteith), the naïve mother figure holding them all together the menacing Fox (Ryan Hollyman) and Rabbit (Frank Cox-O’Connell), who provides most of the comic relief. Richard Greenblatt is their mysterious protector who has seemingly gone missing while trying to forage food for their survival.
Of course, the ghost-child Lyca is still kicking around the mill and terrorizing its inhabitants. This time she’s played by Natasha Greenblatt (daughter of co-star Richard Greenblatt), who takes over for Holly Lewis. The two actresses couldn’t be more different – Lewis is sallow, pale, and much more ghostly looking, whereas Greenblatt is earthy and feline (and frankly, a little too pretty for the role, even when done up with matted hair and bloodshot eyes). Nevertheless, Greenblatt matches her predecessor’s sinister air well.
Like the other three plays, “Ash” sets a genuinely creepy tone without seeming tacky. (I saw it on its first preview, where a technical malfunction eliminated most of the music and ambient noise, but I didn’t even notice anything missing.) Nevertheless, while it isn’t the weakest of the bunch (that would be the dragged-out “Woods”), it isn’t the strongest either. One problem is the casting: none of the actors seem as young or innocent as the characters they’re playing appear to be, and much of the dialogue feels stilted as a result. The characters are drawn roughly for the most part, changing motives without clear reason, and the story tends to go in circles, at least until the unexpected climax.
Still, anyone who’s followed the saga up until now will be fairly satisfied with how everything pulls together. And if this is the first time you’re hearing about it, you’re in luck: all four parts are playing in repertory until the end of the month.
“Ash” runs until Jan. 29 at the Tank House Theatre, Young Centre for the Performing Arts. For more information, visit www.theatrefront.com.