by Lynn on August 7, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ont. Playing until Aug. 26, 2023.

Written by Robert Winslow

Directed by Kim Blackwell

Musical direction and original music compositions, Justin Hiscox

Costumes by Korin Cormier

Set by Kim Blackwell

Choreography by Rachel Bemrose

Cast: Indigo Chesser

Jasper Chesser

Katherine Cullen

Lily Cullen

Peter Dolinski

Colin Doyle

Jason Edmunds

Michael Field

Andria Fisher

Cadence Fisher

Eli Fisher

Thomas Fournier

Franny Galvin-Hynes

Linda Gendron

Sierra Gibb-Khan

Matt Gilbert

Jason Gray

Mark Hiscox

Ken Houston

Josh Lambert

Caoimhe MacQuarrie

Deirbhile MacQuarrie

Riordan MacQuarrie

Siobhan MacQuarrie

Saoirse MacQuarrie

Adrianna Malloy

Venessa McCraken

Ayla McCracken-Reed

Ian McGarrett

Grogan McKellar

Robert Morrison

Zach Newnham

JD “Jack” Nicholsen

Darragh O’Connell

Lindsey Partridge

Kelsey Powell

Zack Radford

Julia Scaringl

Autumn Smith

Sarah Steven

Mikayla Stoodley

Phil Stott

Evan Tsimidis

Robert Winslow

Musicians: Jason Edmunds

Justin Hiscox

Mark Hiscox

Cody Inglis

NOTE: Adventures in weather Part II.

The weather for the opening of The Cavan Blazers at the 4th Line Theater in Millbrook, Ont. called for thunderstorms, possibly growing to tornado strength at about 7 pm. on the opening (Aug. 3). Thunderstorms, possibly tornado strength, at about 7:00 pm. The show was to start at 6:00 pm.

Ha! A little rain and wind don’t scare me! (Remember my Blyth adventure!)  I got in my car and set off really early cause I wanted a BBQ sausage that they make before the show. Just to be safe, I took my ‘rain-shell’ and decent sized umbrella, with the chocolate motif (that means the whole hood of the umbrella is festoon with all sorts of chocolates).  The weather on the way was beautiful. I got there at 4 pm. I had my sausage and a bottle of water and enjoyed sitting at a table outside the barnyard, enjoying the company of friends and the sausage.

There was rumbling in the distance. Clouds passed over us and seemed to be going over in ‘that direction’. A person in authority (Kim Blackwell, the director of the show and the mighty Managing Artistic Director of 4th Line Theatre) had a fancy thingy that could tell you the weather to the minute. The expected rain would spit at about 5 pm, not last long and then go ‘over there’ away from the theatre. We’re laughing. On cue at 5:00 pm, some rain drops dropped. We remained and were assured ‘the weather’ was going ‘over there.’

We took our seats and the show started at 6 pm after speeches and thank yous to donors. All was good. Impressive use of the space; cue the trained racing pigeons; lovely mix of professional actors and committed community actors. The story of religious intolerance was intense between the majority Protestants towards the minority Catholics in the Cavan area in the 1850s.

Clouds rolled in that did not look theatre friendly. Thunder could be heard in the distance. No lightening. Ha. The show continued. Children appeared in the distance in the meadow as part of the performance. They are so committed. A man rode in on a horse and sauntered around the barnyard.

The dark clouds above got darker. The thunder, thundered. We paid attention to the play and the vast stage. Then rain fell in more than drops. More like streaks. On cue, the audience that was not under the protective overhang of the barnyard structure, put on their raingear, hoods, a few umbrellas went up. I was just in front of the overhang, so little protection. I put on my shortish, blue, non-rainproof (I learned to my sorrow), thinnish, jacket that was obviously too small to cover my ample upper-frontals. I kept tugging at the sides of the jacket, willing then to be larger. No deal. I took off my baseball cap and put that on my knee to cover some of my pants. I put on the hood of the blue, non-rainproof jacket. The rain plastered the sleeves to my arms. Kind of chilly, that. The actors continued acting as rain pelted them.

The rain rained harder. It was about 7:00 pm (right on time as the forecast said, but not that smart thingy before). There was a 15-minute hold on the show to see if the rain would subside. The audience scattered to the various tents around the site for protection. I went to get my umbrella, with the chocolate motif, from the car. I went back to my seat, put up the umbrella, was nice and sort of dry and waited for the show to resume. We were told to return quickly by the lovely staff at the farm and resumed the show. I positioned my umbrella in such a way that I could open it a bit (one of those spring-snap opening versions) and cover my knees. It was not malleable enough to cover my ample upper-frontals, but no matter.  Most of the audience returned. I saw a lot of empty seats. I figured those who did not return were WIMPS and not hardy souls up for a challenge!

The show progressed. The animosity of one side for the other rose on the ‘stage’. Violence increased. The audience was riveted to the action. Clouds got darker. Thunder rumbled over head and not ‘over there.’ We held tight. It started to sprinkle, then heavier, then poured hard. The actors kept acting, telling the story. The rain was ‘drowning’ out the actors. Another rain delay was called and there was much conferring with those fancy hand-held-weather-thingies, and finally, with regret, they had to cancel the show at about 8:00 pm with about 20 minutes left. We all reluctantly went home. Note: I’m reviewing what I saw anyway because it’s so worthy!

It was not raining hard on the way home until I got to the outskirts of Toronto. Then the rain pelted. People are crazy in traffic. They zoom along and it’s terrifying. I was not able to see the lines in the lane (Déjà vu from the Blyth adventure). Where do truck drivers get the guts? Construction was everywhere, of course. We had to go from multi-lanes into one. Stressful. Hands gripped the steering wheel so hard, I had a difficult time unclenching it. I finally got out of the torrential rain. Alas, I think strong chemicals will be needed to clean the driver’s seat, UGHain.

When the going gets tough, the tough get ice-cream, a double scoop in a waffle cone. Delicious. But it dripped on my pants. Sigh.  

The Story.  All the plays at 4th Line Theatre Company are original and are based on the history of the surrounding area, in this case Cavan, near Millbrook and Peterborough, Ont. The Cavan Blazersby Robert Winslow, premiered at the Farm in 1992, and has been remounted about 5 times since the initial production.

It’s 1854 in the area around Cavan, the majority of the people there were Protestants from Ireland. They wanted a fresh start and came to Canada. There was a small enclave of Irish Catholics who also came to that area to make a fresh start. But the animosity came with them to Canada.

Patrick Maguire was a justice of the peace in Cavan and also a minister. He longed to have their own Catholic Church in a parish, but they needed supporters and their numbers were small for a parish. Their first “church” gathering was in his own living room, much to the surprise of this wife Ann. She requested some warning from her husband. He was rather sheepish. Patrick Maguire was a calm man who did not want to cause any trouble. He just wanted to live quietly and peacefully. But he also wanted the freedom to worship with his fellow Catholics. To this end he arranged for a Catholic priest to come and lead the congregation. He also made inroads to get enough Catholics to come to the area so that a parish could be established. That would be followed by a bricks and mortar building.

But that was difficult because the larger faction of Protestants, led by Dane Swain wanted to keep the Catholics out at all cost. Their penchant for burning the barns of Catholic farmers earned them the name of The Cavan Blazers. While Dane Swain was the controlling and formidable leader of the Protestants, he didn’t seem to be a thug. He was a man of few words but he made them count. He would threaten, often it led to violence, but he also didn’t want his men to get carried away. So, he was complicated.

The Production. The play takes place outdoors at 4th Line Theatre Company, in the barn yard, on the Winslow Farm, in Millbrook, Ont. This is the family farm of Robert Winslow, the founder of the 4th Line Theatre Company, and the author of the play. 

The production is directed by Kim Blackwell. Her production is smart, thoughtful, creative and well done. She uses a company of a few professional actors as well as devoted folks from the community who love being involved with 4th Line Theatre. Kim Blackwell always uses the whole expanse of the farm. So, at the beginning of the show, on cue, a flock of trained racing pigeons fly up in formation from the meadow over there, and disappear into the distance. It is an impressive beginning.  Children appear in scenes from the meadow. A character on a horse crosses the bridge over there and moseyd into the barnyard. The barn provides a makeshift church for Justice of the Peace, Patrick Maguire (JD “Jack” Nicholsen) so he can run his services for his parishioners. Nicholsen is always a commanding presence in a show. Here, he is that mix of gruff but generous of spirit. He certainly was chastened by his wife Ann (Katherine Cullen) when he plopped the service for 50 in their living room.  

While the acting varies, as one might expect from the professional actors and those that are from the community and are eager to participate, the whole company acts with heart and commitment.

It’s always a treat to see Robert Winslow in one of the 4th Line Theatre plays. I have seen a production of The Cavan Blazers when Robert Winslow played one of the main characters. Here he plays John Knowlson, a Justice of the Peace and a slightly secondary character. Robert Winslow is always compelling. Knowlson is trying to help the Catholics, even though he isn’t Catholic.  John Knowlson is passionate, committed and wise. He has all sorts of ideas for the betterment of the area. Another dandy performance from Robert Winslow.

Colin Doyle as Dane Swain is a lovely surprise. Colin Doyle usually plays comedic characters, but Dane Swain is a wonderful change of pace. As I said, Dane Swain is a man of few words and because of that he commanded respect. He could get his men to calm down with one bellow.

He operates from contained anger and rage, trying to keep the Catholics out, but he is not as full of fury as some of his men. He is not above violence but tries to intimidate people by staring them down.

Katherine Cullen’s performance as Ann Maguire is also highly commendable. She is matter of fact about how upset she is with her husband, Patrick, but she is kind. However, Katherine Cullen shows Ann Maguire’s full true power when she wrangles with Dane Swain. Here are two enemies but with a twist: Dane Swain is Protestant.  Ann Maguire is Protestant as well, but she is married to Patrick Maguire, who is a Catholic. He loyalties are to her husband who does not want to make trouble, not to Dane Swain who looks for trouble. She wants to know why Swain is bedeviling her ‘people’ who are mostly not challenging or bothering anybody. She uses reason, thoughtfulness and is not afraid to raise her voice to the man.  He has no hesitation in challenging her in return. He is not polite just because she is a woman. He wanted her gone as much as she wanted him to stop harassing her community. The wrangling was true and full of conviction. Lovely acting from these two fine actors. (Does it matter that they are married in real life? Naaaaa).

Zack Radford as Constable Hutchinson offered a varied, nuanced performance of the Constable who was often challenged in his job. Ian McGarrett also gave a tempered, well-paced performance as Justice Huston.

While appreciate that some of the cast is inexperienced in acting in theatre, I would offer that the trick is not to bellow everything so that we ‘hear’ you. The trick is to talk softer, but still project so that you make us listen to you. And while many were playing ‘villains’ it’s not necessary to “play” the villain but to make up believe you are the villain. That does not mean overacting “mean”. It means tone it down. We’re on your side. We’re there ready to listen to what you have to say.

Robert Winslow’s play illuminates religious intolerance in the area of Cavan in the 1850s. Alas times have not improved.

Comment. As you read above, the good people of 4th Line Theatre had to cancel the show about 20 minutes before the end because the rain was pelting down. I’m sure the actors and audience wouldn’t have minded trying to delay and come back but it was not to be.  They tried as best as they could to try and finish the show properly, but the weather was not co-operating.

Or rather, considering the subject matter—religious intolerance, I thought the constant thunder during the show and the resultant rain, was kind of a dramatic expression from on high. Pathetic fallacy is what it’s called in high school English class-when the weather was in sympathy with what was going on. Two religions, the Catholics and Protestant, were fighting for their cause. We had thunder, rain and dark clouds to go with the gripping drama.

I’m always impressed with 4th Line Theatre shows. They are professional, efficient and the setting is idyllic. They did everything to protect their audience and their cast and finally called it because of rain. People were contacted the next day to tell us how we can come back and see the show again and how it ends—a rain check if you will. And I hope people take full advantage of that offer to see how it’s all resolved.

4th Line Theatre presents:

Playing until Aug. 26, 2023.

Running time, weather permitting, 2 hours. 30 minutes. (1 intermission)

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