by Lynn on August 12, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ont. playing until Aug. 27, 2022.

Written by Maja Ardal

Based on the novel of the same name by Janet Kellough

Directed by Kim Blackwell

Musical direction by Justin Hiscox

Set design by Mike Nott

Costume design by Korin Cormier

Choreography by Madison Sheward

Sound design by Esther Vincent

Cast: Kate Bemrose

Kaleigh E. Castell

Tavaree Daniel-Simms

Rylee Dixon

Kait Dueck

Justin Hiscox

Mark Hiscox

Conor Ling

Ian McGarrett

Megan Murphy

JD (Jack) Nicholson

Robert Winslow

And others

A fascinating story of shady land dealings, forgeries of deeds and money, and a Minister trying to find his faith again and the truth of a murder mystery. Always worth a trip to 4th Line Theatre at Winslow Farm in Millbrook, Ont.

The Story. September 15, 1853. Cobourg, Upper Canada (“Ontario” didn’t come into existence until 1867—Bless 4th Line Theatre for making me look that up). Thaddeus Lewis is a Methodist minister who has come to Cobourg to be one of their spiritual leaders. There is also a Baptist minister. Thaddeus Lewis has recently lost his wife and daughter and also his faith. He is struggling to believe in God and prays to him regularly for guidance. In the meantime, Thaddeus does his duty to the people of Cobourg. His 18-year-old granddaughter Martha comes to Cobourg to help him by tending his house. The smart, thoughtful Martha soon experiences the small-minded, gossipy people of the town and deals with it in a forthright manner. There are rumors of land transfers that were bogus until a shady person sold the land in question to the railroad and made a fortune. Ire was high. There was a mysterious murder. Thaddeus Lewis was also an amateur detective and helped out by investigating. Along with the railroad, there are plans to build a bridge that would cross Rice Lake and join Peterborough and Cobourg. Lots going on in the town.

The Production. As with all the productions at 4th Line Theatre Wishful Seeing is focused on real events in the area. The play is based on the novel of the same name by Janet Kellough. The gifted theatre creator/playwright/actor/director etc. Maja Ardal adapted the book and also incorporated her sense of whimsy and imagination into the story. When Ardal and Kim Blackwell, the equally gifted Managing Artistic Director of 4th Line Theatre, were in a boat on Rice Lake, the idea was formed to have Ardal adapt the book and Kim Blackwell to direct the show. Serendipity in the most magical of places.

Designer Mike Nott has created a wonderful set indicating several locations. There is the Globe Hotel Bar where the menfolk of the town gather to drink (often to excess), swap stories and gossip. Next to that is the Potts General Store with many shelves packed with jars of preserves, cans of goods and loads of other produce. The women of the town go there regularly to buy supplies (often on credit) and to spread the most unsupported gossip. At one point, Martha (a confident, forthright Kate Bemrose) tries to put things in perspective for the prissy women, regarding her grandfather, Thaddeus Lewis (Robert Winslow). (While there was a real minister named Thaddeus Lewis, he was not a fixture in Cobourg at the time. In fact, the real Thaddeus Lewis fought in the war of 1812 and travelled the land, preaching).

Next to the Potts General Store was the home of Thaddeus Lewis and his granddaughter Martha. There was a simple table and chairs and a bookshelf up from that full of books. Beside Thaddeus’ house is a makeshift jail. Scenes are played, as always with 4th Line Theatre, in the barn, on the upper level of the building beside it and in the meadows.

Blackwell has the menfolk of the town lean on the bar at the Globe Hotel and bellow their gossip as they get drunker and drunker. And at the Potts General Store the gossipy ladies of the town are straight-backed and prim as they let all manner of rumor fly without thought of the truth of the statements, and they seem quite pleased with themselves that they think they know dirt on their fellow townspeople.   

The cast is a mix of professional actors and local folks. The locals are committed to 4th Line Theatre and their acting is full of conviction and joy.      

Mixed in with this shady land transfer—family land was passed from one person to another with flimsy paperwork, then passed again with forged documents and sold to the railroad—is a murder. Who was the person killed? Who killed him? It turns out Ellen Howell (Kait Dueck) is arrested for the murder. Her husband George Howell (JD (Jack) Nicholsen) who has a questionable reputation for business, has disappeared and Ellen does not know where he is. It doesn’t look good for Ellen. But Thaddeus Lewis is on the case. He is also smitten with Ellen. He comes to her in jail to try and sort out the mystery of the murder and also to read to her from Jane Austen. At this point, Thaddeus is visited by the specter of his late wife Betsy (Kate Dueck) who is trying to guide him.

Robert Winslow imbues Thaddeus Lewis with a sturdy sense of duty, a courtliness even, mixed with Thaddeus’ guilt at having feelings for Ellen while grieving for his late wife Betsy.

Conor Ling plays lawyer Townsend Ashby with assurance but not arrogance and he tries to defend Ellen Howell.

Director Kim Blackwell does a neat trick here. Kate Dueck plays both Ellen and Betsy and in one scene she seems to play both women at the same time. As Ellen she is devoted to her husband and confident in her place as his wife. There is a tenderness too with Thaddeus Lewis. As Betsy, Kate Dueck has an ethereal quality and is quite haunting. Blackwell sets up the scene with Thaddeus holding Ellen’s hand while reading to her in prison. A few seconds later, Betsy appears as a ghost beside the prison. We are then aware that Kim Blackwell has created a neat trick of suggestion and whipped our imagination to believing we are looking at one actress playing two parts at the same time. Terrific.

Kim Blackwell is deft at using the whole sweep of Winslow Farm in telling the story of Wishful Seeing. In the distance characters holding strips of blue material undulate the material in the air as they suggest the appearance of water of the lake. Then a small row boat appears ‘in the water’ as George Howell rows his devoted wife Ellen in the boat.  Over yonder in the far meadow, workers build the bridge that will span Rice Lake.

Comment. As with all 4th Line Theatre productions, Wishful Seeing has a compelling story, quirky characters and the most magical setting for seeing theatre.

4th Line Theatre presents:

Plays until: Aug. 27, 2022

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (1 intermission)

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