Living on the edge of the urban wilderness

Joan MacLeod's 2000 set in Lynn Valley at the cusp of the millennium

2000, a light-hearted drama which explores how the natural and urban world co-exist, runs April 7-22 at The Theatre at Hendry Hall, 815 East 11th St., North Vancouver. Tickets: $18 ($16 seniors/youth 18 and under). Reservations: northvanplayers.ca or 604-983-2633.

While we were all worried about Y2K before the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, Joan MacLeod was more concerned for the wildlife on the North Shore.

As 1999 drew to a close, playwright and then-North Shore resident MacLeod knew humans and wildlife were not co-existing harmoniously here – 39 bears were destroyed locally that year – and so she penned a play about it.

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“I was intrigued by the notion of the wild invading the city and the city invading the wild, by the idea of things being not quite right in nature and the approach of the millennium.” Stephen Torrence chokes up as he reads that quote by MacLeod explaining the impetus for her play 2000.

Torrence is producing and directing a remounting of 2000 – which is set in Lynn Valley and looks at the boundaries between nature and civilization in an enlightening and humorous way – at The Theatre at Hendry Hall this April.   

The play, set in the high-tech home of a childless-by-choice, professional couple living in the hinterlands of Lynn Valley, sees a cougar wandering down into the city and shifting their perspectives of the world.  

“And the cougar represents many, many things to the characters in the play,” explains Torrence.

Living in the home with Sean and Wyn is her 99-year-old grandmother, Nanny, who believes there is a mountain man lurking around the property.

“When he (Mountain Man) enters the play towards the middle of the first act, then he changes all of their lives profoundly. In the same way that when we allow nature in and recognize it, it changes us,” explains Torrence.

Bringing comic relief to 2000 is Janine, a raucous and raunchy 30-year-old caregiver from Nanaimo, who comes to live with the family and take care of Nanny.

As with all her plays, MacLeod deftly blends humour with serious topics, sparking a social dialogue. Her dramas are profoundly rooted in real-life challenges to the human spirit, but always avoid sermons and transcend political viewpoints, reads an excerpt from her online bio.

“There are some very, very funny moments in the play 2000,” says Torrence. “Janine and her character are kind of a counterbalance to the very serious topics that are discussed in the play.”

Those thought-provoking topics include how those who straddle the border between nature and civilization are confronted with the changing environment around them, and the impact that both have on each other.

2000 will resonate with many North Shore residents who can relate to living on the edge of wilderness, says Torrence, who himself had encounters with wildlife when he lived on the North Shore. While hitting the links at the Seymour Golf and Country Club, Torrence witnessed coyotes skulking on the fairway.

Then there was that time Torrence had an encounter with a black bear in the alley behind his home on West 23rd Street in North Vancouver near the heart of the city.

“On the North Shore we are living in the midst of this natural world that we have invaded and it shapes us and changes our behaviour,” says Torrence, who has become much more cautious while walking after dark in bear country.

2000 has a special character that some older North Shore residents might remember. Nature Boy was a real-life man, a hermit-like character, who lived in Upper Lonsdale in the 1960s.

All of the 2000 actors have performed for North Vancouver Community Players and other theatre companies on the North Shore at one point or another. Karen Golden, who plays Nanny, was part of the award-winning production

Two Rooms, which Torrence directed last year, while Laura Burke, who plays Janine, was the lead in that show.

Torrence says the 2000 set designers did an amazing job of transforming the integration between the natural and urban world which is decidedly North Vancouver.

“Once people walk into the theatre and as they become immersed in the story they will see how they will connect it to the North Shore and Lynn Valley specifically,” says Torrence.

Performed rarely, 2000 is a difficult play to mount from a technical perspective, explains Torrence.

“That’s what makes it more beautiful,” he says of the project.

Torrence figures the last time 2000 was performed in Vancouver was 2003. In addition to its April run at The Theatre at Hendry Hall, 2000 will also be mounted May 11 at Presentation House Theatre during the North Shore Zone Annual Festival of Plays.

Torrence says ultimately audiences will be moved by 2000.

“Someone once said that Joan MacLeod’s plays are like the tide, they come in rather gently and before you know it you are just wrapped up in the water and what’s going on,” he explains. “This play is very much like that. It starts out slowly but it captures you within the first five minutes.”

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