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Impeccable performances at ‘Isle of Demons’

Allison Kelly and Evan Mercer in a scene from “Isle of Demons,” at the Barbara Barrett Theatre until Sunday.
Allison Kelly and Evan Mercer in a scene from “Isle of Demons,” at the Barbara Barrett Theatre until Sunday.

“Oh the year was 1542, in the springtime love, in the springtime love. Marguerite, her man and her servant, too, they roamed the hills of Newfoundland, the hills of Newfoundland…”

These words, sung by The Once, floated out over the dark stage. For those familiar with the tale of “Marguerite and the Isle of Demons,” the short audio clip was simply setting the scene.

I first heard the dark tale of Marguerite de La Rocque de Roberval and the Isle of Demons a few years ago, while reading about folklore. The legitimacy of her story is disputed, but I will present it as it was presented to me (Friday night) – in the small Barbara Barrett Theatre, by Persistence Theatre, under the direction of Jenn Deon, and performed by a trio of talented actors.

The story truly begins as Marguerite (Allison Kelly) converses on a dock with a young man named Eugene (Evan Mercer), an old acquaintance. They, along with Marguerite’s maid-servant Damienne (Marie Jones), are awaiting the same ship sailing to the New World, captained by Marguerite’s affluent uncle.

This voyage – full of promise – would not have the happy ending imagined on the dock that day.

As the distance between them and home grows, Marguerite and Eugene’s passion does as well. Damienne is worried about the ramifications of their actions, but Marguerite does not care what her uncle might think. Sadly, his views on the matter would eventually decide her fate, and the fate of Eugene and Damienne as well.

Disapproving of his niece’s actions, a suitable punishment was decided upon, and the three were marooned on an island. Left behind with provisions, seeds, a gun and ammunition, Marguerite is sure Uncle will return once he has decided she has learned her lesson.

This is a play based on relatively well-known historical folklore, so consider this sentence to be the spoiler alert. If you haven’t heard the tale of the “Isle of Demons,” just stop reading now.

As Marguerite, Eugene and Damienne would eventually learn, their ship would never return. The trio was left to fend for themselves, on a cold and unforgiving chunk of rock in the Atlantic.

For a while, Marguerite holds onto hope of a rescue, but Eugene and Damienne have moved on, instead focusing on survival. This proves difficult and laborious, but still, they persevere, until one by one, the sweet release of death ends their unrelenting agony.

Marguerite is the last left standing, but yet she is not truly alone. Wild beasts are nearby, but more haunting is the never-ending parade of delusions that visit — Eugene, professing his love, and Damienne, nagging her endlessly.

These delusions represent her weakening mental state, and the constant internal fight to either push on or give up.

Though Marguerite is lost, the audience is not. We are cognizant and present, as Marguerite snuggles into the personifications of her inner torment, embracing the end of her suffering.

“I don’t make it, do I?” she asks.

You make it, Marguerite – in the (disputed) history books, and on the stage.

“Isle of Demons” is showing at the Barbara Barrett Theatre from September 27-October 1.

 

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