Timescape: History Plays and Isolation
rotten horsemeat; his refusal to follow the standard calendar; and his overt hatred and
mistrust of women, whom he calls “witches.” As neighbours and relatives retreat from
his life, Sukanen retreats more and more into his own reality. He is often described as
standing alone beside his ship, a hammer in each hand, pounding metal onto the hull of
his boat for hours and days at a time. Neighbours and relatives do not trust his sanity and
have him committed. He dies alone in the North Battleford Psychiatric Hospital after a
lengthy coma. His last act is, in Schroeder’s creation, to stand up and recite the precise
location of the hospital, in latitude and longitude. He knows exactly where he is. His
way out is death.
There are differences between Schroeder and Mitchell’s retelling of Sukanen’s
life story. Mitchell focuses on the tragic one man of vision struggling against everyone
around him. Jaanus’s only real friend is his neighbour, Bender. But even he cannot
protect Jaanus forever. Eventually, Jaanus breaks from sheer exhaustion and lack of
community support. The action takes place, for the most part, in the then-present tense.
Mitchell includes a narrative voice in the form of Anna-Marie. She represents, at
different moments through the play, both Jaanus’ daughter and the love he left behind in
Finland. Anna-Marie speaks of Jaanus in the past tense. She is outside of the timeline of
the play looking back on Jaanus’ life. The fact that Mitchell names his character Jaanus,
as opposed to Sukanen, also re-enforces the play’s function as a fictionalized account of
Sukanen’s life. Mitchell stresses the mythic story over the reality.
In Dustship, Sukanen’s life is explored largely through the eyes of his neighbours
and relatives years after his death. Schroeder uses Sukanen’s name in the play and his
novel. The play was written in serial form; each of five episodes featured a different