Jonathan a seagull parable

Jonathan: The Seagull Parable defies theatre conventions and limitations

Half the actors have disabilities in this ambitious play about identity, physicality and community.

Jonathan: The Seagull Parable is a bit of an unconventional play. For one, it’s about a bird. 

Loosely based on Richard Bach’s book Jonathan Livingston the Seagull, director Jon Lachlan Stewart’s company Surreal SoReal Theatre is pairing up with Geordie Theatre to present this parabolic tale about a seagull deadset on doing things his own way. 

“Jonathan wants to learn how to fly fast. But within his flock, his community, it’s against the law to fly fast. It’s looked upon in a very negative way,” says Luca “Lazylegs” Patuelli, who plays the part of Fletcher. 

Patuelli is an internationally renowned dancer and choreographer, also serving as lead choreographer for this production.

Jonathan: a seagull parable
Jonathan: The Seagull Parable costars Luca “Lazylegs” Patuelli. Photo by Jerrick Contales

So Jonathan, played by Yousef Kadoura, is exiled from his flock. Ostracized, he sets off to discover for himself what limits, if any, are imposed on us by our connection to our communities and our own physicality. 

“A lot of people can relate to this story about identity, about who we are as individuals and trying to discover who we are around the resistance from people in our community,” Patuelli explains. 

“And as for the idea of physical limitations, within this play, half of the actors do have disabilities and the other half don’t.”

That’s something else that is a bit unconventional with this play — few and far between are the productions that feature actors both with and without disabilities, especially with equal distribution. 

Blending theatre and dance, Jonathan will be presented in both English and French. In introducing this play, Lachlan Stewart has spoken of his desire to create an inclusive production that will resonate across demographics.

Jonathan a seagull parable
Jonathan: The Seagull Parable costar Lesly Velazquez. Photo by Andréanne Gauthier

“We want to create a show for teen and adult audiences that encourage us to think about the world we live in — and who lives in it — a little differently,” he says.

All of the actors are equipped with crutches to simulate wings, giving the impression of flight. With Patuelli’s guidance and leadership, the actors collaborated on creating choreography with the crutches.

“Crutches are looked at in two different ways,” says Patuelli. “There’s the negative connotation, it’s something that’s weighing you down, dragging you down. But then there’s also the idea of its support, and that support gives you that freedom to be independent.

“And so with the choreo, building alongside Jon Lachlan Stewart, we’re creating moments where we show that idea of triumph over tragedy, how to take the movements on crutches and make them look pretty, open them up and show that idea of freedom and flying freely.” 

Jonathan: a seagull parable
Jon Lachlan Stewart directed Jonathan: The Seagull Parable.

The movements came from working with the actors — many of whom had never used crutches and all of whom except Patuelli are not dancers — through warmups and movement exploration to identify what felt right to them.

“I really enjoyed this process,” he says. “The actors have been super open, they’ve been very receptive and wanting to learn movement.”

This is Patuelli’s first time serving as the lead choreographer for a feature production, and his first acting role. He has had an interest in pursuing roles in theatre or film, and took an acting class during the pandemic. 

“What’s important to recognize for every single actor in play, they’re all great actors,” he says. “Whether they are disabled or not is secondary — what we hope is that when people come to see the play, they see the quality of the work.”

Prince Amponsah costars in Jonathan: The Seagull Parable.

Patuelli says he hopes this production highlights that actors with disabilities have a place in the arts.

“I think that this type of play will send a message to the art world saying that there are talented artists with disabilities that deserve to be in the limelight in the commercial world,” he says.

“I’m hoping that this type of play can help take away that taboo.” ■

This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Cult MTL. 

Jonathan: The Seagull Parable is on at Théâtre Denise-Pelletier’s Fred Barry Hall (4353 Ste-Catherine E.) from Nov. 23–Dec. 11, $30–$38

For more Montreal arts coverage, please visit the Arts & Life section.