1837: The Farmer’s Revolt, a SHAW innovation Reply

Review by Danny Gaisin

Rick Salutin’s 1973 play recounting an Ontario event that took place thirty years before confederation, and when the Province was still Upper Canada colony; is based on fact and a part of history. It was administered under a socio/political arrangement known as the ‘Family Compact’ with the accent on family. In the Quebec (or Lower Canada) there was a parallel paradigm but it was the Catholic Church and the St Jean Baptiste Society oligarchs that were in charge.  Director Philip Akin utilizes the talents of nine company members to interpret not only the divisive Whig/Tory antagonisms & philosophies; but their individual struggles.

Ric Reid as W.L. Mackenzie exhorting the farmers to revolt

His utilization of powerhouse imagery emphasizes the dialogue, thus underscoring the attitudes, missteps, and stereotypes being represented. One example is the exaggerated puppet sequence that is one of the most creative scenes these eyes have ever seem.
Given the thespian levels of such SHAW stalwarts as Sharry Flett; Donna Belleville; and Travis Seetoo, it’s a given that there will be no weak portrayals. Still, there are some outstanding role interpretations. The numerous roles depicted by Jeremiah Sparks all are presented with an almost fervent dedication. He is impressive not only physically; but in his representations. The pivotal role of newspaperman William Lyon Mackenzie is propounded by Ric Reid and he is outstanding. The credibility he brings to the part is as if the audience is watching the original. Evert stance, motion, and expression mirror all the details I imagined about the man when having to study W.L.M. back in Canadian History 101.
The Act II scenario is where Mackenzie refers to Papineau and his struggles in Quebec, and his finally running out of patience with the lack of political progress. The feelings that necessitate taking the struggle to the next level – actual rebellion, is visceral and the preparations only slightly telegraph the outcome. The actual battle is cleverly projected via the vehicle of reports and rumors from the field of battle. A brief slow-motion interpretation has the entire cast in full action mode. Then the loss and dramatic aftermath. The closing dialogue – “Sam, we lost”; is rejoined with  “NO! We haven’t WON yet” sums up the philosophy of so many political struggles.
1837 etc. is at the Courthouse Theatre until Oct. 8th

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