Revised Review: Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz: The Farmerettes

by Lynn on July 5, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

The review has been revised to correctly reflect that Act II of the play takes place in Thedford and not Thorold (as per the program). Thanks to Bonnie Sitter who co-wrote the book for the confirmation of the correction.

Live and in person at 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ont. Playing until July 20, 2024.

Written by Alison Lawrence

Based on the book by Shirleyan English and Bonnie Sitter

Directed by Autumn Smith

Musical director & original compositions, Justin Hiscox

Costumes by Korin Cormier

Sound by Steáfán Hannigan

Cast: Rebecca Birrell

Aimée Gordon

Reena Goze

Megan Murphy

Carina Sălăjan

Alicia Salvador

Musicians: Justin Hiscox, Mark Hiscox, Cindy Babcock, Maria Con

A touching homage to the young women who worked the farms in Ontario while the men were in Europe fighting WWII. The play does not shy away from examining Canada’s more disgraceful treatment of some of its citizens.

Alison Lawrence has written a lively, loving, poignant play weaving the stories and experiences of the young women who signed up to be Farmerettes, working the farms while the men were away at the war. The young women were mainly high school students who often came from other places to work on the farms.

Alison Lawrence has created a play in two parts over two summers. Act One, Peach Fuzz, is set in 1942 in Grimsby, Ontario; Act Two, Onion Skins, is set in Thedford, in 1945. The play is described as a work of fiction based on actual events. We get a wonderful sense of the enthusiasm of these young women for this new adventure. The Farmerettes, as they were soon called, soon got over their enthusiasm for the adventure after a day of working in the fields. Every bone and muscle ached.  There are hilarious stories of picking peaches and later in Act II, harvesting onions.

For many of the Farmerettes it was the first time they were away from home and homesickness was an issue in at least one case. In another case it was the first time a young woman had a bed to herself because she came from a large family and had to share her bed with two sisters. One young woman named Jay wrote chatty letters to her father who was fighting overseas. This perhaps was the most moving story. Jay (Rebecca Birrell) and her father argued before he left and she felt sad and guilty about it. The emotion was heighted because he was fighting in Dieppe.

The camaraderie of these young women is beautifully illuminated by playwright Alison Lawrence but she doesn’t shy away from some of the uglier attitudes of some of these women. One of the Farmerettes was a woman named Amalia (Carina Sălăjan). She was matter-of-act and generally kept to herself. She was viewed with a bit of suspicion by the other girls perhaps because she kept to herself; or perhaps because she had an accent they could not place. In fact, Amalia was Czech and had experienced war, while the others had not. She came to Canada for a better life. Over time the wariness she had for the others and the others had for her, dissolved with conversation and understanding.

In Act II, set in Thedford, Ont. in 1945, Alison Lawrence had the stories of two sisters, Sue (Reena Goza) and Lucy Tanaka (Alicia Salvador), woven into the play. They were young women living in the area with their parents. Sue and Lucy were born in Canada of Japanese descent. Because of the war and racism, their parents saw their land taken away from them and they were put into an internment camp and considered “enemy aliens.” It didn’t matter that their father fought on the side of Canada in the war. It didn’t matter that the two girls were born in Canada. Because they were of Japanese descent they were automatically consider ‘enemies’. Sue tried to see the best in people. Lucy was bitter because of the treatment of her family. Again, the young women farmers came to realize the horrible situation for the Tanaka family. One of the girls stood up to her mother who had negative thoughts about the Tanaka family, and told her the Tanakas were good people. It was vital that that ugly part of Canadian history be in this play and Alison Lawrence rose to the occasion.

The production is terrific. Director Autumn Smith guides her young cast with assurance and care. Smith uses every inch of the barnyard of Winslow Farm as well as the outer reaches of a meadow. In all instances the cast projects with gusto and conviction. They are stellar. Rebecca Birrell as Jay is an upbeat presence hiding regret that she and her soldier-father parted on prickly terms. She writes to him regularly telling him of her day and adventures, always hoping he’s ok. Aimée Gordon plays Joan in Act I and Nettie in Act II and does both with nuance and differing detail. In Act 1, Reena Goze plays Ted, a hay-sucking farmer with little use for girl farmers, until he meets the love of his life and changes his tune. In Act II Reena Goze plays Sue Tanaka, who tries to find good in everyone.  Megan Murphy plays Dot, Joan’s sister. She’s always cheerful and enthusiastic. Alicia Salvador plays Liz in Act I, a fastidious organizer of the Farmerettes, always a stickler for the rules; and in Act II Salvadore plays Lucy, the angry Tanaka sister who resents how her parents were treated. Carina Sălăjan is an actor of wonderful creativity. She plays Amalia in Act I, a dour woman, watchful and knowing of how terrible war is; in Act II she plays Mrs. Franklin, a ‘straddle-walking’ misery who resents cooking for the girls and feels that slop plopped on their plates is nourishment enough. Carina Sălăjan also plays various other characters, but especially a mischievous boy who taunts the girls by making fart sounds and also keeps scratching his backside. Hilarious.

You will have a better appreciation of peaches, onions., farm labour, and the power of an embracing community after seeing this wonderful show.

4th Line Theatre Presents:

Plays until July 20, 2024

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (1 Intermission)

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Russell Sitter July 5, 2024 at 9:45 pm

The second act takes place in Thedford Ontario.


2 Lynn July 5, 2024 at 10:10 pm

Hi, My program says “Thorold”. I’m going by that, but thanks.


3 Lynn July 6, 2024 at 10:28 pm

Hi Russell, Much thanks for the correction and the patience while I checked it out with Kim, on our interview this morning on Critics Circle, CIUT FM 89.5 Yes indeed, an error happened in the program and I’ve made a correction and noted it on social media! Here is the new version: Revised Review of Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz: The Farmerettes that reflects the correct location of Act II, I take it you are Bonnie Sitter’s son??? I think Kim told me. Now to inform your Mother of the correction. All good. Best, Lynn Slotkin


4 Bonnie Sitter July 5, 2024 at 11:52 pm

The second act takes place in Thedford Ontario. Thought you would like to know.
I am the co-author of the book.
Thanks for the fabulous review.
I am “over the moon” delighted with everything about the play and from the comments I have been hearing as I leave the performance, the audience is very moved by it. The Farmerettes, mostly in their 90s now, are reliving their youth and there are tears of appreciation and joy.
Bonnie Sitter 519 235 190


5 Lynn July 6, 2024 at 12:57 am

I appreciate this Ms Sitter, truly, but the program at the farm says Thorold, 1945. I’m interviewing Kim Blackwell On CRITICS CIRCLE, 89.5 at 9 am (Sat. July 6.) I’ll ask her what’s going on here….and will correct when I find out. Love the play. Must read your book. Best, Lynn Slotkin


6 Lynn July 6, 2024 at 10:30 pm

Hi Ms Sitter, Yes indeed, Kim did confirm on our radio interview this morning, on CRITICS CIRCLE 89.5 that Act II takes place in Thedford, as you said and the program was incorrect. Much thanks for the patience and the correction. I corrected the information on the post and in social media. All is good. Here is the revised version: Revised Review of Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz: The Farmerettes that reflects the correct location of Act II, Best, Lynn Slotkin


7 Jane French July 6, 2024 at 7:36 pm

Greetings Lynn. Thanks for your thoughtful review. My dear mom was a “Farmerette” near London, Ontario probably near the end of the war. She was allowed to skip her final exams in Grade 13 to go and do her duty by picking tomatoes “for the war effort “. Born in 1927, she died last summer at 95. I know she would have loved this play.


8 Lynn July 6, 2024 at 10:33 pm

Hi Jane, What a grand story!!! Did the folks who wrote the original book know of your Mom? I’m sure they would love to hear from you about her. Hope all is well. Best, Lynn