After nearly forty years working as a theater director and adaptor of novels and poetry for the stage, I found myself front row center in Donna Salli’s inaugural novel, A Notion of Pelicans, for me a play in five acts. Act One begins on hallowed ground on which now stands Pelican Church, conceived by a notion delivered to Lavinia Hoope Hansen in the late 1800s as she waits for her husband in a clearing on a bluff overlooking Lake Superior’s North Shore. High overhead a circle of pelicans keeps watch with her. The following sections are linked by brief atmospheric crossover scenes which grounded me in the present-day story. It takes place in the adjoining town in a single evening with the day winding down and a storm moving in. The next four “Acts,” each named for the woman who is central to each play-within-a-play, are first person monologues that set each woman firmly in the present moment but then use the moment to trigger memories, re-enacting each back story in language that is surprising, witty, earthy, lyrical and revealing. The reader gets to know these brave, imperfect women and the men in their lives from all four points of view, an intricate interweaving of an extended family who are bound together by ties to their church. And in the author’s words, at the end, “high above, like a single bead, the pelican flew.” Salli is a new voice with strong feminine undertones, a voice with a great deal to say.
Sally Childs, formerly Artistic Director of the Lyric and Jon Hassler Theaters