by Lynn on July 11, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ont. Until July 22.

Written by D’Archy Jenish

Directed by Cynthia Ashperger

Musical direction by Justin Hiscox

Set by Esther Vincent

Costumes by Korin Cormier

Cast: Austin Anonsen

Cailleach Beaton

Skye Beaton

Rebecca Birrell

Katherine Cappellacci

Gillian Coons

Michael Field

Sierra Gibb-Khan

Matt Gilbert

Jason Gray

Justin Hiscox

Laurin Isiekwena

M. John Kennedy

Darius Maliha-Evans

Sarah McNeilly

Kelsey Powell

Nathan Simpson

Peter Spasov

Renate Spasov

Carmel Warman

Hilary Wear

Lindsay Wilson

Ellyse Wolter

Musicians: Austin Anonsen

Michael Field

Justin Hiscox

Mark Hiscox

Kelsey Powell

Lindsay Wilson

A play about resilience in the face of greed. How a group of poorly paid women stood up to the owner of the Tilco Plastics Co. in Peterborough for a fair wage.

The Story.  It’s 1965 in Peterborough. Bud Clarke comes to the area representing the Textile Workers Union of America to urge the women who work for the Tilco Plastics Co. to join his union. He doesn’t feel the women are getting reasonable pay for their work from the company. The work is drudgery. They have to produce a certain number of combs per hour, check them for quality control and keep the line moving quickly under the focused gaze of their supervisor. The supervisor reports every transgression to Harold “Dutch” Pammett, the owner of the Tilco Plastics Company.

Bud Clarke awakens the women to the need they have for a better wage and the way to do it is to join the union. Pammett is stubborn and won’t budge. The women are urged to strike. That sets things in action for a rocky journey to change.

The Production. Director Cynthia Ashperger negotiates her large cast around the huge space of the Winslow Farm barn yard and environs, with a delicate hand. I was particularly aware that she focused many scenes to the far side of the space for those patrons sitting there to enjoy, rather than keeping the action only ‘center-stage.’ The suggestion of the conveyor belt at the factory in which combs flow down, are checked and boxed is particularly adept.

D’Arcy Jenish’s script is dense and detailed with information on what lead the small band of hardworking women at the factory to consider Bud Clarke’s request, that they form a union under the Textile Workers Union of America. Matt Gilbert plays Bud Clarke with quiet brashness. He is determined but not loud and pushy when urging the women to join. He uses facts, figures, reason and common sense. And he can deal with the brashness of Pammett with equal meansure.  

While Harold “Dutch” Pammett, as played by M. John Kennedy is a stubborn almost unreasonable man, he does offer his own reasons for not giving in. Again, playwright D’Arcy Jenish brings out the humanity in this situation to soften the stubbornness by having Donald Harwood (a committed Jason Gray) offer a voice of reason. Harwood has crunched the numbers and feels they can give into demands for a higher hourly wage for the women in the factory. While occasionally it appears like a ‘good cop, bad cop’ situation between Harwood and Pammett, Pammett is not above being conniving and pushing his agenda through when he feels he is being ‘played’.

D’Arcy Jenish has illuminated how women were treated in 1965: ignored, treated with disdain and thought to be lesser in the work place than men. It was a time when it was acceptable to bring in strike busters to do the work while there was a strike on. It was a time when even the government was not keen on legislation that would regulate strikes or conditions in the work place. If anything, what happened at the Tilco Strike paved the way for future governments to step up and regulate fair dealings with strikes and a fair wage for women. Leading the women in the strike was Lil Downer, played with conviction by Katherine Cappellacci. Initially Lil was reluctant, but as she saw clearly how the situation was, she stepped up and was all in for the cause.

I can appreciate that it’s tempting to depict a character like a stereotype but the role of Gladys, Harold Pammett’s buxom blonde secretary gave me sad pause. True, Rebecca Birrell plays Gladys with conviction as a chirpy-voiced, bouncy-bosomed woman, in a form-fitting dress, with an exaggerated flouncy walk, but having Musical Director Justin Hiscox add a clomping percussive sound to accentuate the bounce is unnecessarily tasteless. And there might have been a suggestion of subtext as well. When Gladys was getting ready to go home from work, she put on a coat that looked like mink. Were does a secretary get that kind of coat? Are we to assume there is a relationship that is other than business with her boss? Odd. Not developed. Troubling.  

Comment. On the whole, as in all 4th Line Theatre productions the cast is a mix of a few ‘professional’ actors, many stalwarts from the surrounding community and emerging young talent, all working cohesively to produce a wonderful production, like The Tilco Strike.

4th Line Theatre presents:

Plays until July 22.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (1 intermission)

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