by Lynn on July 11, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ont. on Winslow Farm until July 23, 2022.

Written by Alex Poch-Goldin

Directed by Cynthia Ashperger

Musical direction and original composition by Justin Hiscox

Set, props and sound design by Esther Vincent

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Choreography by Bill Coleman

Cast: Indigo Chesser

Colin A. Doyle

Sochi Fried

Matt Gilbert

Justin Hiscox

Mark Hiscox

M. John Kennedy

Sarah McNeilly

Emma Meinhardt

Robert Morrison

Julia Scaringi

Salvatore Scozzari

Madison Sheward

Shelley Simester

A fascinating play about the beginning of the silent film industry in Trenton, Ont. in 1919. Well played and staged.

The Story and production. Since this is a 4th Line Theatre production, that means that The Great Shadow by Alex Poch-Goldin is original, dealing with an actual event that happened in the area. Writer Alex Poch-Goldin has given himself a huge task. First to write about the beginnings of the film industry in Trenton, Ont. in 1919, to incorporate the fear of Communism coming to Canada into the story, as well as noting the importance of the women’s movement at that time, to try and get the vote for women and to be heard regarding equality, is a huge endeavor.

George Brownridge (Colin A. Doyle) was a young Canadian who wanted desperately to make films (silent at the time) that would reflect things that were important to Canada. He wanted to start in Trenton where he planned on building a studio to make them. He first had to convince the local politicians that there was a need for other films besides the ones they were making about the importance of good oral hygiene. These politicians felt that the money from films could build roads. They felt that Brownridge was a young upstart.

Brownridge felt the money from the films should pay for other films and encourage other Canadians to write, direct and act in them.  But when he got the go ahead to make his first film, about the scourge of Communism, he hired a British director named Harley Knoles (Mark Hiscox)  and two American stars  named: Tyrone Power (M. John Kennedy) and Edna Mayo (Sarah McNeilly).  All real people who in fact were making silent movies.

Also making an appearance in The Great Shadow are Hedda Hopper (Shelley Simester), Louella Parsons (Sochi Fried), both rival gossip columnists and Adolph Zukor (Salvatore Scozzari) the head of Paramount Pictures who had a sneaky scheme to prevent Brownridge from distributing any film he ever made.

I think Poch-Goldin’s play does the job well. He’s done a ton of research and of course Poch-Goldin has a wicked sense of humour that one can see in other plays he’s written—certainly Right Road to Pontypool that he wrote a few years ago for 4th Line Theatre.

He has many wickedly funny lines about the great Canadian insecurity that always seems to try and defeat anyone from thinking big and can compete in the world with our neighbours to the South. There are endless lines from the smart-suited politicians who think films about tooth-decay aimed at schools is big thinking enough.  There are the snide remarks of the visiting Americans—Louella and Hedda—about how quaint, small, provincial, and backwater, Trenton is. Both Sochi Fried as Louella and Shelley Simester as Hedda are wonderfully arch and snide to each other and Canadian in general.

There’s a wonderful scene in which two tourists are desperate for something to eat and of course it’s Sunday in Trenton, Ont. and nothing is open. So they begin to negotiate to buy a local man’s (a wonderful ‘simple’ but wily Robert Morrison) sandwich. There are lots of jokes about ‘eh’…..

The fear of Communism is everywhere and so Brownridge is making a film about that…but it seems there might be an insider there to thwart him, when he least expected it. The issue of women’s rights is introduced by a determined Marguerite Snow and the idea almost seems tangential until Brownridge incorporates the matter into a film and also has a neat way of distributing it even though Adoph Zukor has tied up all the distribution to the cinemas across the country. He didn’t count on the Canadian ingenuity of George Brownridge.

As usual, the cast is huge, using a lot of kids in the area and well as local citizens who just love being a part of this summer festival. And of course there are professional actors that one often sees from Toronto and environs.

It was directed by Cynthia Ashperger, with a great sense of how to use a large cast and efficiently use the vast land scape of Winslow Farm, where the show takes place. She has many surprises for the audience especially when an American actress wants to make a grand entrance. The cast of professionals and ‘amateur’ actors is fine and committed.

As George Brownridge, Colin A. Doyle is youthful, enthusiastic and has a nimble mind to solve any problem, using the tricks of the people trying to dupe him, to his advantage. Brownridge is the essence of Canadian—he won’t be cowed by anyone and he knows how to fight back using the lessons of his opponents. Sarah McNeilly is compelling and beguiling as Edna Mayo. Madison Sherwood is staunch and forceful as Marguerite Snow, but could use more nuance and less yelling when voicing her comments about women’s rights. She has a lot of smart things to say. Saying them with more variation would be helpful.  Salvatore Scozzari is wonderful as the slippery Adolph Zukor. There are so many more in the cast that are notable.

Comment. It’s always a treat to go to 4th Line Theatre at Winslow Farm to see a play, outdoors in the barn yard.

This needs to be mentioned. After the Front of House Manager welcomed us and noted some housekeeping rules (turn off the cell phones etc.) she gave a land acknowledgement thanking the Indigenous peoples in the area for taking care of the land. But more important was that she also noted some of the 94 Calls to Action established by the Truth And Reconciliation Commission. If memory serves, here are some of them, and to hear them read out is stunning:

10. We call on the federal government to draft new Aboriginal education legislation with the full participation and informed consent of Aboriginal peoples. The new legislation would include a commitment to sufficient funding and would incorporate the following principles …

11. We call upon the federal government to provide adequate funding to end the backlog of First Nations students seeking a post-secondary education.

13. We call upon the federal government to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights.

16. We call upon post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.

And if nothing has been done since they were established, then I think we all must make some NOISE! Leave it to 4th Line Theatre to make a pointed, important statement in the most elegant way.

4th Line Theatre presents:

Plays until: July 23, 2022.

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, (1 intermission)

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