by Lynn on August 9, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at The Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont. Plays until Sept. 3, 2023.

Adapted and directed by Gil Garratt

From the plays by James Reaney

Set and lighting by Beth Kates

Costumes by Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Geoffrey Armour

Masae Day

Paul Dunn

Randy Hughson

Rachel Jones

Cameron Laurie

Steven McCarthy

Hallie Seline

James Dallas Smith

Mark Uhre

NOTE: Adventures in Weather Part III

I was going to the Blyth Festival this time to see the third and final part of The Donnelly Trilogy. I didn’t check the weather. I wanted to be surprised. It was a beautiful drive out there. I followed the driving instructions on WAZE to the letter. I missed traffic jams, accidents, reported on whether or not there was a car still on the side (as requested by WAZE), and smiled when the voice announced, “road-kill ahead.” Clouds rolled in as I got closer to Blyth and away from the Stratford area. The rain was gentle, not fierce. When I rolled into Blyth about 6 pm, it was still raining. I drove to the local Tim Hortons for my traditional supper of their world-famous chili. I then checked my e-mails. The Blyth Festival wrote that they had to move the performance from the outdoor Harvest Stage to the indoor Memorial Hall because of the rain. I drove the short distance to the Hall, rolled down the windows a bit and ate the chili in calm peace. The performance was at 8:00 pm. I toyed with the idea of having a double-scooped cone of ice-cream but the chili was filling. There was no angst on this trip. No cramping happened in my hands because I didn’t need to grip the steering wheel. No clothing or car seat were soiled because of frightening driving conditions. It was a perfect way to be prepared for the horror that would befall the Donnelly family.

The hard ache of the end of the Donnelly trilogy. Wonderfully done. Uncooperative weather has wreaked havoc with the playing schedule of the outdoor Harvest Stage and in true trouper style, the cast and creatives shifted and accommodated the change from outdoors to indoors without a hitch.

The Story and production. James Dallas Smith came out with his guitar and got to the point. He sang a song about how the Donnellys were going to die. He was almost impish about it.  The previous two parts: Sticks and Stones and The St. Nicholas Hotel kept building the animosity the townspeople had for the whole Donnelly family, the violence towards them, and the retaliation they took was relentless so we knew that the end was not going to be pleasant. Handciffs is Part III of the trilogy, when everything comes to a violent end.

Church and state were not separate here. One priest was removed from the area because he was too fair-minded and actually defended the Donnellys. He was replaced by Father Connolly (Paul Dunn) a self-righteous man, smug, arrogant and not above telling people how to vote. The Donnellys refused to vote for a Conservative candidate. They insisted on voting for whomever they wanted. That went against them.

 More than once James Donnelly (Randy Hughson) and his wife Johanna Donnelly (Rachel Jones) were challenged and threatened by neighbours who came to their door. Mr. and Mrs. Donnelly rebutted every challenge. As James Donnelly, Randy Hughson spoke with controlled emotions but one knew he was suppressing rage. Randy Hughson gives James Donnelly such stature, grace and humanness. He is a decent man who was treated abysmally by his thug, narrow-minded neighbours. As Mrs. Donnelly, Rachel Jones did not hide her fury. She showed her contempt and disgust to anyone who showed disrespect to her family. Mark Uhre has played Michael Donnelly in a previous part as well as villains in Handcuffs. I particularly like him as a so-called-religious Conservative candidate who crossed himself whenever he exited a scene. Masae Day plays a demur, quiet Bridget Donnelly, the Donnellys’ niece who has come from Ireland to stay with them. Cameron Laurie plays among others, Pat Farrell a 10-year-old boy who is witness to the murder of the Donnellys. As that young boy, Cameron Laurie brings out all the truth and conviction of the character.

Again, director Gil Garratt beautifully uses the space—be it the Harvest Stage or the Memorial Hall stage—to show the sweep and breadth of the story. He has a lovely sense of what makes a vivid image on stage. And he knows instinctively how to make the audience “imagine” what is happening when it’s only suggested. A man holds a shovel as he approaches a fearful Bridget Donnelly and then we are told what happens as the man whacks the shovel on the ground. Of course we imagine that it’s not the ground he’s hitting. Suggestions of stage business like that make the whole scene gripping. Beth Kates’ stunning lighting design of a fire that consumes the Donnelly home is harrowing and gut twisting.

As Will Donnelly, Steven McCarthy brings all his courtliness to the character and quietly tells the audience of the two years of trials, appeals and the final disgraceful acquittal of all accused—it’s not a spoiler, it’s history and our rage should not be in the telling of what happened but that the murderers were acquitted in yet another miscarriage of justice towards this family.  

Comment. The Donnelly Trilogy is a stunning accomplishment of theatre. Please see them. So worth your time.

The Blyth Festival presents:

Runs until September 3, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours (1 intermission)

Leave a Comment

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kelly Monaghan August 13, 2023 at 12:52 pm

A return visit on a clear night will prove worth the drive. The immolation of the family is absolutely stunning.


2 Lynn August 13, 2023 at 8:30 pm

Hi Kelly,
It was stunning, and heart-stopping in the theatre too. Those folks know how to make a jaw drop. Good people.