Review by: Brian Morton
DISCLAIMER: Two actors involved are friends who have been in productions I have directed. Also I was an actor in this playwright’s production of RIVER SONG five years ago.
THE WHIRLWIND is a very well written play about the Battle of Beaver Dams which was a British victory during the War of 1812 in the part of Upper Canada that later became Thorold, Ontario.
The key historical fact that it is necessary to know is that on June 24, 1813 – a greatly superior American military force was gulled into surrendering to a few British regulars and force of native warriors by a rather clever Irish officer James Fitz Gibbons who (using the American’s deep terror of the natives) conned them into laying down their arms.
In this stage version of the story, four actors set up the circumstances of the battle. Stage Managing the whole affair is John Addison as American rogue and cut throat Cyrenius Chapin – an American surgeon and Militia leader from Buffalo. Playwright Massey acts the role of American Colonel Charles George Boerstler – a regular officer who outranks the vain Chapin.
“War is a whirlwind that turns the world upside down”…
The Canadians are represented by the iconic Laura Secord, played here by Carla Zabek and by Mohawk leader Henry Tekarihogen (Chris Cracknell).
Each of the characters are one by one brought out of the audience using the device that audience members are playing these various historical figures – Cracknell however claims to be the real 200 year old native warrior who was present at these events – he is now an extremely old man.
What follows is basically a debate over the historical record – whose version of events are we supposed to believe?
“That is not what happened!”
All four actors do good work in this production, but it is the stirring and dignified portrayal of Cracknell’s Native Warrior Tekarihogen that steals the show. Holding high an eagle feather, he reclaims the official history retelling it from the first nation’s point of view. Even those of us studied in the historic accounts have much to learn from what he has to tell us.
“We wished to live in Peace – it is your people who brought war upon us!”
THE WHIRLWIND then becomes less an academic history lesson then a first hand personal account of the betrayal of the promises made to the indigenous people whose lands were stolen by both sides.
I had a few small quibbles. Other then filtered through the Laura Secord character, we get no version of the POV of the British Officers. For that reason, (and the fact that he was one clever SOB and historical drama needs more roguish characters like him), I really wished though that officer James Fitz Gibbons was an on stage character too.
A film clip from a recent documentary shows us the climatic moment of the battle – something that greatly undermined the stage play as a film can show us things that a theatre production has to conjure up out of our imagination.
The American officers bitterly complain about the native warriors looting their private property after the battle – weapons, food, money and uniforms are stolen from them. Ah the Irony.
In all, I really liked this well staged production very much and I feel that all involved are to be applauded for reintroducing the Fringe audience to history that most Canadians have no knowledge of. Again that is one of the amazing things of the Hamilton Fringe – the sheer number of shows that have something really interesting to say to us. Check this one out I say.