by Lynn on August 15, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Memorial Hall, Blyth, Ontario. Playing until August 18, 2023.

Written by Matt Murray

Directed by Miles Potter

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Sound by Sean Downing

Cast: Mark Crawford

Murray Furrow

Amy Keating

Sam Malkin

Severn Thompson

Chronicles of Sarnia starts off seeming to be a sweet but slight comedy, but the last quarter of the play packs a punch. The cast is wonderful.

The Story. Erin is a retired history teacher with a mission. To celebrate the City of Sarnia’s centenary she has convinced the governing body of the city to create a time capsule marking the first 100 years, for future generations. She organizes a town-wide meeting for community input with a replica of the capsule for a surprise reveal. Only her husband, a department store employee, a young woman with a sketchy past and the janitor show up. Erin won’t reschedule. She conducts the meeting anyway. Secrets and truths are revealed.  

The Production. There’s a snow storm outside. In Steve Lucas’ terrific utilitarian set of a room in the basement of the building, there are dumps of snow on the window sills outside. Inside are several chairs for the expected people, a coffee machine and a plate of Erin’s homemade Nanaimo bars.

Erin (Severn Thompson) is nervous, a bit snippy to Rick (Murray Furrow), her estranged husband and naturally anxious that everything go well. Owen (Sam Malkin), the harried and efficient building custodian tells Rick and Erin not to connect any other appliance if the coffee is on or a fuse will blow and there will be no lights.  

Marcus (Mark Crawford) is the first to arrive—lanky, shy, fretting there is only 10% juice on his new cell phone. He works at Winners. He used to be a therapist for gay couples with issues, but since his relationship broke up he feels he can’t really advise couples. Clair (Amy Keating) is the next (last) to arrive. She is perky, irreverent, her language is salty and she tells it like it is. She needs to show her probation officer that she was at the meeting for community involvement by having Erin sign her paper. Erin takes an instant dislike to Clair.

Erin begins the meeting, using cue cards until she just wings it. She brings out the time capsule. Clair starts to laugh—it looks like a sex toy. (use your imagination out there). Erin likes Clair even less.

Suggestions are made about what to put in the capsule. She writes each on a large pad on an easel.  Clair offers a lot of good suggestions. They are noted but when it comes time to winnow the list down, Erin just strikes off everything Clair said.

Every person here has issues of loneliness, self-worth, confusion, frustration and hidden secrets. They are all slowly revealed in Matt Murray’s funny and sometimes prickly play. The characters are allowed to vent and confess past issues. Chronicles of Sarnia initially seems like a play of disparate people coming together and revealing their issues and then they go their separate ways without too much conflict.

But then there is a reveal about Clair that ramps things up. (I won’t reveal what it is so as not to give away a spoiler). But Matt Murray knows his way around an argument and how people lob and volley blame and responsibility. Clair knows she has made a mess of things, but feels that someone else’s decision ruined her whole life. But that argument was countered too. In the last quarter of the play it turned from being funny and perhaps slight, to more substantial. Characters were supported and challenged to take charge of their lives and not wallow in their self-pity. It was not a neat ending. It was a needed ending.

Director Miles Potter has a fine sense of the humour in Matt Murray’s play and realizes it beautifully. Relationships are established clearly. The cast is dandy. As Erin, Severn Thompson brings out her awkwardness and officiousness. Erin is critical of much of what Rick does until we find there is a relationship there that is not as solid as one expects. Severn Thompson has a way of smiling that reveals Erin’s insecurity and sense of loss. She is so keen on history at a time when people could care less. That must be galling and when only two people show up, she won’t show her disappointment or embarrassment by postponing.

Rick seems distracted in Murray Furrow’s funny, performance of him. He would rather be listening to the hockey game. Murray Furrow, makes Rick quiet and barely attentive. Mark Crawford plays Marcus as a man with all sorts of issues, not the least of which is his almost dead cell phone. He needs to call his mother and can’t. As with all the characters, he finds his footing and the confidence to do what he was meant to do. Sam Malkin as Owen drops hints about his backstory. Owen’s determination to do his job hides a profound sorrow that is quite touching. Amy Keating is fearless as Clair. It’s true Clair is the flashiest character, but Keating does not over play it. She is watchful, reacts to everything around her in the most contained, subtle way. Clair’s language is scatological, her body language is ‘in-yer-face’ and she takes no prisoners. But she too takes stock of her situation by the end.

Matt Murray is from Sarnia. Chronicles of Sarnia is supposed to be a celebration of what that means. We can all see ourselves in the play, regardless of where we are from.

Comment.  The Chronicles of Sarnia is another reason to visit the Blyth Festival. They do fine work there.

The Blyth Festival Presents:

Plays until Aug. 18, 2023

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes. (1 intermission).

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