Friday, 20 February 2015

Entertainment or Insight?

Colin Furlong holds the stage as Joseph Smallwood.  Newfoundland's Napoleon?

On Wednesday night I traded in my Ash 'Wedndesday ash for a bit o' newspaper smudge.   I was at the opening of The Colony of Unrequited Dreams.    When I walked into the Arts and Culture Centre I was handed a program of - guess what- newsprint.  Sweet!   Even for mainlander me that spoke of Joey Smallwood.   Newsprint!   I read Wayne Johnson's book years ago, 500+ pages.  What I wondered what  would make the stage? 

I tucked myself into a seat for the ride.    My first impression was of the stage design monochromatic choices that had been made: grey upon grey (not 51 shades there of) the - as the performance would prove- perennial snow.   (Aw come on people even in NL we have spring!).  

I did however like the wheels that characterized all of the sets.  We can live with wheels.  The whole visual presentation of the play spoke volumes. (I could write an article on that alone.  The hand gestures.  The use of colour.  Mucho wonderful.)


This it seems is how you condense a big book for the stage:  love interest.  Yes, even though it is based on a fictionalized character.   Let me tell you here and now.  Astrid Van Wierlan as Sheilagh Fielding steals the show.  She portrays a fictionalized character who is a journalist, bigger than life and Smallwood.    Ummm.   What else needs to be said?  He never loves her as she wishes.

The pacing was tight enough to take the audience across three acts with an intermission.  (Did anyone count how many people left at intermission?)

The acting was solid.   And the portrayal of Smallwood interesting enough to capture the attention of an audience who probably all had first person experience of the man.   My feeling was that the character on stage- played ably by  Colin Furlong– was Smallwood as he liked to think of himself.  Dedicated to the every man, trudging through the snow, capturing their stories. The whole walking metaphor was well developed for those who like to think.  It was a feature that last through two acts.

I was taken by the transformation of Smallwood as an idealistic young man to the politician champion of socialist programs in Canada.  Remember the baby bonus?  Ok, so that's how you get from socialist to Liberal.  But if you want to know about Smallwood the Sleeveen you will need to pay closer attention to the unsympathetic character of Fielding.  She called it like she saw it.  Too bad she didn't exist.

This is a genuinely good play.  Go see it.  
Astrid Van Wieren as Sheilah Fielding, the woman who dominates.

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