Songs and puppets help outcast kids cope in Tomson Highway's The Incredible Adventures of Mary Jane Mosquito
By Tomson Highway. Directed by Monica Dufault. A Carousel Theatre for Young People presentation. A Carousel Players' production. At the Waterfront Theatre on Saturday, November 2. Continues until November 10
Feeling like an outsider is a universal hardship that many people experience throughout life, but that sense of otherness is usually felt most acutely in childhood.The Incredible Adventures of Mary Jane Mosquito is a one-act musical that offers some important messages on how to deal with feeling like an outcast, told through an engaging story and fun songs.
The show follows a young mosquito’s journey as she overcomes her obstacles to find her voice and place in life. You may ask, what type of obstacles can a mosquito have? In this imaginative story written by Tomson Highway, Mary Jane Mosquito was born without wings, which makes her different from all the other mosquitoes at her school in Petit Petit Le Paw, Manitoba. We see how she deals with changing schools, making new friends, and rising from setbacks. This action is all set to some catchy, sing-along-friendly songs written by Highway, including the upbeat “Ten Times Ten”, which may get stuck in your head.
Under the direction of Monica Dufault, the production cleverly uses puppetry to bring to life the characters in Mary Jane’s world. Catherine Teichman serves as the show’s puppeteer, masterfully switching from puppet to puppet, changing her vocal delivery and facial expressions when performing each role. These range from the identical-looking “Mean Girls” at school, to the frighteningly large teacher who terrorizes Mary Jane.
A highlight of Teichman’s work is the aforementioned “Ten Times Ten”, which she performs as Mary Jane’s loving aunt with a warm, tender delivery. As Mary Jane, Hayley Vincent offers a likable persona that’s easy to relate to and root for. As this show is big on audience participation, Vincent includes the audience in her journey, frequently making eye contact and speaking directly to audience members in a welcoming way.
Vincent’s crystal-clear voice is a delight to hear and she and Teichman are accompanied by on-stage keyboardist Shane O’Regan, who playfully reacts to the action in Mary Jane’s story.
Highway has infused his Cree background into the show, giving it a layer of Indigenous influence. Mary Jane regularly teaches the audience “the language of mosquitoes”, which is actually Cree. In fact, Vincent does an excellent job of performing the leading role in three different languages, as she also sings in French at some points.
It’s worth noting that none of the ideas in this show were randomly strewn in—the show is set in Manitoba, home to large populations of mosquitoes and Indigenous communities. As Cree is part of the Métis heritage, it makes sense that French is used throughout the show as well.
Also worth noting is how Mary Jane’s “winglessness” can be interpreted as a metaphor for being disabled. The show takes a lighthearted, gentle approach in telling how those perceived as different might be unfairly treated—and how, despite this, one can rise up and share one's gifts with the world.
The Incredible Adventures of Mary Jane Mosquito speaks an inspirational message that’s important for children—and people of all ages, for that matter—to understand, in an endearing and culturally rich way.