Review: JEWEL, Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont.

by Lynn on September 28, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

In person, outside at the Harvest Stage, Blyth, Ont. Until Oct. 3, 2021.

Written by Joan MacLeod

Directed by JD Nicholsen

Cast: Rebecca Auerbach.

From the production information:

“A breath-takingly beautiful, funny and heart-breaking play about a young couple who buy a cattle ranch in Alberta and set about the farm life they’ve always wanted. To pay the mortgage, her husband takes a job in the oil patch for half the year. When he’s offered the chance to work on a rig in Newfoundland, the couple see a clear way to fulfill their dreams. A tragedy at sea, and an unspeakable loss, lead a young woman to relive the greatest love of her life; from their first Valentine’s day, to their last. Originally premiered in 1987, this stunning Canadian classic, will be performed by Rebecca Auerbach and directed by JD Nicholsen.”

Marjorie has just come in from milking the cow(s?). She wears clunky Wellington boots, sweat pants, thick socks and a long sweater. She talks about “Valentine’s Day through the ages.” She recalls carefully preparing her first Valentine’s Day card for a cute boy in grade school, on whom she had a crush, and then realized every other girl prepared a Valentine’s Day card for him too. He could care less about the girls. Crushing. There were Valentine’s cards in high school with more success.

Then Marjorie went to university and met a fellow student named Harry. He was studying cow management and was planning to own a farm one day. They became friends, then camping friends, going camping together. And they fell in love and eventually got married. Marjorie was not too keen on Harry’s abrasive father, but she could cope with him. What mattered was that Harry always remembered Valentine’s Day. He would send a special message to Marjorie via a radio program that passed on such messages.

Before Harry could buy a farm he planned on making a lot of money working the oil fields in Alberta. Marjorie would stay home in their trailer. She loved him still but one sensed during her telling us the story, there was trouble in the marriage. His absence wore her down. Then the truth came out. His latest job was working on the Ocean Ranger oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland. There was a terrible storm and the Ocean Ranger was going down in it and the men had to get into flimsy lifeboats in the freezing night. Harry never made it. She was told the news on Valentine’s Day. That was three years ago. They have been married for six years.

Playwright Joan MacLeod writes meticulously detailed plays of the human heart, both bursting with love and hurting with grief. She writes of the tingling intoxication Marjorie felt when Harry put his arms around her in bed. The description could make one lightheaded it’s so vivid. MacLeod writes of the loneliness, despair and anger Marjorie feels at the loss of the love of her life. She also writes of the possibility of a better future too, but not too quickly.

JD Nicholsen has directed this production with wonderful small details that bring out Marjorie’s tenacity and humour. As Marjorie, Rebecca Auerbach is bright, determined and funny at first. She is wistful when she says, “Valentine’s Day through the ages.” As she tells us the story, she pours the milk in the pail into two bottles. She spoons the cream from one jar into the other to even them out. She keeps busy in order to avoid the loneliness. And in a telling moment, Auerbach twirls her wedding ring (is she trying to take it off? It’s hard). That bit of business is quietly heartbreaking.

Jewel is a beautifully written play of joy, grief and trying to move on. Rebecca Auerbach and her director JD Nicholsen bring it to shimmering life while squeezing the heart.

Produced by the Blyth Festival.

Runs until Oct. 3, 2021.  

Running Time: 57 minutes.

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1 maja ardal September 29, 2021 at 2:10 pm

Lovely write up of a play that sounds soooo great! I won’t see this production but wish I could.