by Lynn on February 10, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Campbell House Museum, University Ave. and Queen St. Toronto, Ont.

Written by Dave Carley

Directed by Cecily Smith

Lighting by Yehuda Fisher

Cast: Alison Beckwith

Tristan Claxton

Hayden Finkelshtain

John Jarvis

Cecily Smith

In these fractious times Dave Carley’s play Taking Liberties is more important than ever.

Taking Liberties with its focus on civil liberties. freedom of speech, responsible journalism, no matter how unpopular the opinion, makes it as timely today as it was 30 years ago when the play was first performed.

The play spans 40 years starting in 1995 then going backwards in 10 year segments. Each character comments on their stance on an unpopular issue and the consequences of each. The characters are connected in some way or other. In 1995 Professor Anne Harvie (Cecily Smith, giving a forthright, solid performance) holds a prestigious position in her University. She opposes affirmative action as a hiring practice. She does not explain the details surrounding the case, but does indicate that her property has been vandalized because of her unpopular stance. It’s not the first time. She references her father for some rancour in her life. Constant opposition to her thinking has taken its toll and she makes a decision about her future.

In 1985 Ron Bloom (an emotional, energetic Hayden Finkelshtain), a serious man from a Jewish family, believes in free speech to the point that even a person espousing anti-Semitic sentiments is entitled to voice his opinion. A man who teaches math is also an anti-Semite but his views do not enter the classroom. Ron believes the man should keep his job in spite of his anti-Semitic views.  This causes a rift in the family especially with his father Max who in a sense disowns him. Years before Max experienced anti-Semitism until friends of his insisted the local golf club admit him as a member. Up until that time Jews were not allowed to join. Ron’s impassioned speech is given to his unseen wife, Sara.

In 1975 Sara Munro (Alison Beckwith giving a thoughtful, determined performance) is in high school and urges her English teacher to teach the banned book, “The Diviners” by Margaret Laurence. The book had been repeatedly banned for being blasphemous and obscene by religious groups, but Sara was determined that the book had to be taught because of its quality and urged her teacher to teach it. Sara inherited her sense of right and integrity from her father Heck Munro, the editor of the local newspaper. Sara would grow up to marry Ron Bloom, another person of integrity.   

In 1965 Heck Munro (bristlingly played by John Jarvis) is the harried, impatient and thoughtful editor of the local newspaper. He has just learned of a big story. The police raided the men’s washroom of the local bus station and found several men involved in illegal, sexual behaviour. The police gave him all the names. One of them was a friend of his. Does Heck print the names or doesn’t he? Does he leave out his friend’s name or doesn’t he? The thinking of what to do is fascinating.

Finally in 1955 we meet Gerald Harvie, Anne’s father. As Gerald, Tristan Claxton gives a nuanced performance of a man tormented and conflicted.  Gerald is a good family man.  He is an upstanding member of the community, a successful accountant and well liked. But he has a deep secret that he can’t ignore. It preys on him.

All these stories are connected. The ideas and thinking are not taken lightly and they all have consequences.  All the difficult views of the characters in Dave Carley’s bracing, timeless play pose a cautionary tale.  They are beautifully presented in the Grand Ballroom of the Campbell House Museum, thanks to the fine cast and Cecily Smith’s sensitive direction.  

Dave Carley’s bracing, challenging play Taking Liberties is more vital and important than ever before. Alas.

Began: Feb. 8, 2020.

Closes: Feb. 23, 2020.

Running Time: 70 minutes.

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