In the Light, Two Planks and a Passion Theatre’s main stage show this summer, presents some seemingly pastoral, but politically charged theatre.
A Governor General’s medalist in playwriting, Catherine Banks has adapted Ibsen’s classic drama ‘An Enemy of the People’ to suit times where there are forces more powerful than the truth.
Banks has set her play in the verdant Annapolis Valley during the Great Depression. The small town locale is evocatively represented by two swallow-graced ponds, my favourite Two Planks backdrop.
Times are tough, but the villagers are hopeful a healing spa will reverse the downward financial spiral. Father/daughter John and Camilla Beals, (Jim Fowler and Hilary Adams), portray the hard times deftly.
When the town’s medical officer Thomasina Burke strides into the action, we know right away the tone is about to change. Having had the spa waters tested, she knows there’s likely trouble with poisons ahead. But Dr. Burke, solidly portrayed by veteran Burgandy Code, has no notion how much.
Medical knowledge in the 1930s was burgeoning and yet one highly-educated woman is vilified because she can’t possibly understand economic development. Which priority will win? Public health or financial stability. Since the baths are the town's main source of revenue, the community fights to silence her.
Jeff Schwager, as mayor Peter Burke, is a perfectly smug and dapper villain. Totally misguided about his role, this mayor’s moral values recede abruptly with news of the bleak toxins in the water.
Dr. Burke, whom it must be said doesn’t weigh heavily into the science, gets sparse backing from the community. First, her friend and editor of the local newspaper, portrayed by Chris O’Neil, backs her, then runs scared at the thought of losing crucial advertising revenue.
Two other newspaper staffers, junior reporter Harry Beals and sneaky printer Jack Johnson, played by Devin MacKinnon and Genevieve Steele, are shameless turncoats.
Fortunately, Dr. Burke’s family, her wise and war-blinded husband, played by Matthew Lumley, and her energetic teacher daughter (Mary Kay Coady), stand with her. Coady adds a terrific turn on the fiddle as well. But it is Code’s enduring stance as Burke that makes her heroism so telling.
The owner of a toxin-spewing tannery, John Wallace, representing corporate greed, finds he can behave with heart. Ryan Rogerson makes him into a fully rounded character.
The Ibsen original drama, circa 1882, had a decidedly male protagonist. Banks’ 90-minute version, coupled with Ken Schwartz’s able direction, adds a whole feminist element to the script, which serves to heighten the drama for post-modern audiences. The setting is superb, so fine writing and acting make In the Light well worth viewing.
FRANKENSTEIN BY FIRE
It’s some kind of thriller all right. Frankenstein by Fire will have audience members perched on the edge of their seats to see what the creature will do next.
As Dr. Victor Frankenstein tells this tale, you can forget seeing Boris Karloff with a bolt through his neck. Writer/director Ken Schwartz has come up with an intelligent retelling of Mary Shelley’s 1818 horror story.
But wait for the music, composer Allen Cole further ramps up the drama with some remarkably fearsome and occasionally tender music. It is performed by Cole’s son Dashiell and the cast.
Ryan Rogerson, as the arctic sea captain, draws the story out of a traumatized Victor played by Devin MacKinnon.
MacKinnon brings alive Shelley’s dream about a scientist who creates life and then is horrified by what he has made.
The stately creature, who is emboldened by Matthew Lumley, demonstrates the rationale he has to devise for his lonely, murderous existence. It’s sad to watch.
A strong ensemble cast, wearing Jennifer Goodman’s stylized period costumes, make real two families torn asunder by death. Go, sit by the bonfire, and see what transpires before Frankenstein and the creature depart into an everlasting icy wilderness.
Frankenstein by Fire, the Two Planks and a Passion Theatre fireside production at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts, is set for 9 p.m. July 23, 25, 26, 27, 30; Aug. 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, 10, 13, 15, 16, and 17. In This Light will be held at 6 p.m. July 23, 24, 30; Aug. 3, 6, 7, 10, 13, 14, 16, and 17. In This Light will also offer 2 p.m. matinees on July 28 and Aug. 4 and 11.
Talkback events are slated for July 24, Acadia professor Jon Saklofske speaking on the work of Mary Shelley and Aug. 7, Dalhousie professor Roberta Barker speaking on Henrik Ibsen.
Halifax playwright Gillian Clark’s new dark comedy, The Ruins by Fire, inspired by The Trojan Women by Euripides, premieres Aug. 23, while the Mi’kmaw play Elapultiek, by Bear River playwright and storyteller Shalan Joudry is at Ross Creek Sept. 28 and 29.
To learn more, visit: www.artscentre.ca