A shadowy love story from an earlier pandemic

In the early days of the pandemic, as local actor and performer Naomi DuVall persevered through isolation, a 19th-century Russian folk song lodged itself in her brain.

“Oh you dark eyes, oh you burning eyes,” DuVall found herself singing. “Oh you beautiful and frightening eyes. How I love you so, how I fear you. The hour of which you show is sinister and slow.”

The tune “was in my head for a couple of months,” DuVall says, “while I was making tea and spending too much time on the internet.”

Taking the song as inspiration, DuVall has created Dark Eyes, a haunting and highly original love story told, primarily, with shadow puppets. The 6-minute video was released as part of 4th Line Theatre’s Festival of Light and Dark, a program of 12 short-films made by local artists that launched on YouTube on January 25th.

“There is something about the lyrics which is haunting and also very beautiful,” DuVall says. “It makes you think of all the things that you fear in a romantic relationship. You’re scared, but you’re also in a state of wonder. The feeling of longing, and also loneliness. Sometimes you can feel lonely when you’re in a relationship.”

In Dark Eyes, an old woman sits by a window and tells her grandchildren the story of an unusual relationship she had long ago, during an earlier time of pandemic and quarantine. (No era is given, though there are hints it’s the 1918 influenza pandemic).

Dark Eyes is narrated by an old woman who recalls a mysterious love affair she had during a previous quarantine experience. (Screenshot via the 4th Line Theatre YouTube Channel.)

The woman recalls the strange creatures, represented by DuVall as shadows on a screen, that visited her at her window during her isolation. There is one in particular who she falls in love with, and who revisits her night after night.

Although short in length, DuVall’s video captures the fear, wonder and excitement of budding romance, and especially those affairs which are doomed from the start and might be considered “forbidden” because they aren’t traditional or conventional.

“I wanted to create something beautiful about the relationship,” DuVall reveals, “but I was also thinking about how things come out at night with dark eyes. Also, during the pandemic I find I’m spending a lot of time looking out the window.”

Directed by her roommate and frequent creative collaborator Shannon LeBlanc, Dark Eyes is DuVall’s first solo shadow puppet project, but she has been working with puppets since her final year studying theatre in Montreal.

Naomi Duvall is known locally as a creator and performer for both stage and screen. (Photo: Laura Thompson)

Through its Festival of Light and Dark, 4th Line Theatre has given DuVall a chance to create something truly unique that connects the past with the present.

The festival “was like a lifeline to reach out for,” she says. “I’m someone who thrives on having a deadline and they gave me that.”

A familiar favourite in Peterborough’s art circles, DuVall has found other creative outlets during the pandemic as well. She recently appeared in the Hallmark film Two for the Win, and she is currently working on an extended version of her supernatural dramedy Pussessed, which features her homemade vagina puppets. Pussessed will hopefully appear on stage later this year — when and if theatres reopen.

“In terms of creating art I try to maintain integrity and truth,” DuVall says. “I’m always trying to search for some kind of truth in something. I think you create something beautiful when it’s truthful. If you’re not searching for that, then what are you searching for?”

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