Playwright: Doug Massey
Director: John Addison
Cast: Chris Cracknell, Carla Zabek, John Addison, Doug Massey
Review by: Tom Mackan
My regret is that I hadn’t seen this production earlier in Fringe week. As I write this it has only three more performances, and although last night’s (Wednesday) show was attended well-enough, it really deserves larger audiences. If reviews have any influence on attendance I’d have badgered you readers at the beginning with reasons to set aside the less than an hour it takes to learn something important about our past. The Battle of Beaver Dams in June of 1813 is the subject. It’s the ‘whirlwind’ of the title, I believe. Consider the metaphor, a sudden burst of meteorological energy as wind whirls into a moment of time, does a big measure of result, then disappears. In the matter of events at Beaver Dams in 1813, it seems to have done its work on behalf of Canadian sovereignty in a huge measure, then disappeared from our memories. Writer Doug Massey would like to recover this day in history and put its place a bit more front and centre in our Canadian consciousness than it’s had.
John Addison directs the proceedings and has kept it simple and minimal throughout. It’s the event that matters here, the facts of the case. The production cannot and does not pretend to be of epic proportions. As close as it gets to that is a film clip from a more elaborate recreation of the action involved (see below). No, he takes Massey’s text literally. He uses few props (a period hat, a simple eagle feather, an American military cap), three ordinary chairs, some basic lighting. He gets the story going by inviting us, the audience, to get close. The story of Beaver Dams is directed at us and the actors assembled come at us with the eyes and voices and their immediacy. It is played in contemporary terms, two-hundred years later, in 2013. Truth to tell, the whole performance is like a lesson in history class delivered by an exceptionally inventive teacher who knows how to involve his students. Addison himself takes the role of both narrator and the American military commander, Cyrenius Chapin. Interestingly, the production is less a conflict between Britain and the United States, than it is between the personalities of the Americans Chapin and Lieutenant Colonel Boerstler, played by the writer, Doug Massey, in command of the large force of American arms. Let me not spoil the broth here, except to say that what happened at Beaver Dams had its genesis in the disorder of their attitudes.
What I will commend to you is the play’s revelation of the significance of the aboriginal peoples’ role as allies of the British forces. Massey introduces us to a Henry Tekarihogen, Grand chief and Sachem of the Mohawks. Fortune smiled on Director Addison in casting the remarkable Chris Cracknell as the ageing and blind chief. So much of the credibility of the telling of the Mohawk story at Beaver Dams is Cracknell’s well-contained and sensitive playing of this role. It is a performance worth the price of admission. What we Canadians owe to our indigenous forebears is quite securely embodied in the character and philosophy of Chief Henry Tekarihogen. And there’s such a lively energy in the Laura Secord of the play, and it comes from Karla Zabec who confidently combines our contemporary 2013 sensibilities of the iconic lady’s role in our history with the historic facts in her enthusiastic and skillfully feminist in-your-face performance. So well done.
I must get this to publication in the fond hope that on reading this, you’ll hie yourselves to The Citadel studio space for one of the final shows before Fringe is over. Perhaps you’ll do the rather fun questionnaire survey offered and win yourselves a DVD of the story “Uncommon Courage: The Battle of Beaver Dams”. Tell them I sent you.
The actor playing Laura Secord is Carla Zabek. I regret the unintentional mistake in the spelling of her name in the review, above.