Erindale’s “In the Midst of Alarms”; an interpretive study Reply

Review by Danny Gaisin

Il ne pas necessaire d’etre bilingue; but it helps!  UTM’s Theatre Erindale has taken Dianne Graves’ book about women during the war of 1812 and created a stage representation. As the school’s administration did for the 2010- ‘a Child of Survivors’; they re-invited director Ralph Small to work with the students. This result may be totally different, but the effect on audiences will be just as impacting.  Photo courtesy of James Smagata – UTM

U.S. & British soldiers battling, while the non-combative women hide

There is no plot as such. Vignettes abstractly represent the atmosphere of life under threat and actuality of battle. There is good; there is aberration; endemic deprivation; immorality and prejudices are magnified. Relationships are weakened yet some bonds become even stronger. Battles such as New Orleans & Baltimore (American victories) earn a mention as do  legendary militia leaders such as Harrison [9th President] ; Andrew Jackson [7th] ; James Madison [4th] and Scott on the U.S. side; while Liverpool; de Salaberry; Prevost and Brock are joined by Tecumseh to win for Britain at such fields as Stoney Creek; Lundy’s Lane and Crysler’s Farm. Naturally Laura Secord’s challenge gets a more than cameo mention.
The blemishes on both sides are cited. Slavery in Upper Canada; naval press-ganging; recruitment persuasions; pillaging and rape are either alluded to or presented. York (Toronto) and Washington’s burnings earn a reference. Seeing today’s traffic & congestion in T.O. maybe ‘Hog Town’ could USE another dose!
There are no sets, and props are simply benches and stools. An enormous sheet is also utilized. It is the actors; lighting, some special effects and sound that give a reality to the presentation. The comedic Act II “Ed the Sock” segment represents the battles & confusion of the time. It’s a creative giggle; and within the context of “Alarms”, conceptually works. The original music composed & directed by Victor Pokinko accompanies choreography that ranges from the dances of the period to almost Tai Chi interpretives.
The large cast (21) is obviously involved and dedicated to what they envisioned and what they present. Each individual portrayal rings sincere and enthusiastic. The aura of commitment that permeates In the Midst of Alarms evokes a visceral response by the audience. Subject matter may be bleak and although we obviously know the final result, we’re caught up in the lives of the protagonists. The finale lyric composition blending by Anthony Bastianon  of ‘Stars and Stripes Forever” (written after the 1813 Battle of Baltimore!) with ‘Rule Britannia’ is not only a clever commentary, it’s a vocally challenging but ultimately satisfying recapitulation of an event that shaped both our North American countries. There’s three more shows remaining…cast and crew deserve sell-outs.

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