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THEMES OF ISOLATION IN SASKATCHEWAN RADIO DRAMA - page 35 / 185

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Timescape: History Plays and Isolation

29

Mitchell’s stage play, The Shipbuilder, was first produced at the University of

Regina in 1977.34 Four years later, in February of 1981, the play was adapted to radio.

The Shipbuilder was produced at CBC Vancouver and aired on CBC’s National FM

network. The play’s strong auditory components helped it achieve widespread success

on radio. As Mitchell points out, “The percussive and poetic elements took shape in

radio adaptations produced successively by the BBC, Finnish National Radio, Swedish

National Radio, and the CBC through the 1980s” (The Shipbuilder 7-8). The national

and international broadcasts of this play speak to both the skill of Mitchell’s playwriting

and to the universal appeal of Sukanen’s story.

Mitchell based his main character on Sukanen but chose to name him Jaanus

Karkulainen. Mitchell portrays Jaanus as more than a mere man. Classically mythic

comparisons come to mind: Jaanus’s name resembles the Roman god Janus, the double-

faced god of gateways and beginnings after whom January is named; Jaanus’s constant

pounding of metal in the glow of his forge cast him in a Hephaestus-like light while his

impossible struggle to single-handedly drag his ship across the prairie brings Sisyphus’

impossible struggle to mind.

Throughout the play, he is also portrayed as being strongly allied with the

elemental, superhuman power of nature. Often Jaanus, unkempt and non-socialized, can

inspire terror in women of the house merely by showing up on their doorsteps. Anna-

Marie speaks of his almost mystic attunement to the land. She describes the labours of

Jaanus and Bender, the neighbour with whom he works as doing “the labour of four men,

Jaanus and Bender, working to the rhythm of the sun and the moon” (Mitchell 23).

Anna-Marie, as Jaanus’s daughter, describes how Jaanus appeared to claim her back from

34

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    The same year the Sukanen Museum dedicated Tom’s new gravesite.

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