Friday, January 20, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) Blood on the Moon

D'Arcy McGee

Filling In (Well)
Blood on the Moon at GCTC ropes in the audience
by Jim Murchison
The play originally set to open last night was You Fancy Yourself, but due to a serious illness, actress Maja Ardal on Doctor’s advice was forced to withdraw.  The news is that she is responding very well to treatment and the Artistic Director Lise Ann Johnson hopes to bring You Fancy Yourself to GCTC patrons at a later date.
Pierre Brault was asked to step in with his acclaimed solo show, Blood on The Moon and he accepted. The play is about a little known but interesting piece of Canadian History, the trial of James Patrick Whelan, the alleged assassin of Thomas D’arcy McGee.  Canada was less than 1 year old on April 7, 1868 when McGee was slain by a gunman’s bullet in the back of his neck. Many believe that Whelan’s ghost still haunts the streets of Ottawa and it is his ghost that seeks redemption in this play, looking for the fairness he never received in life.

The writing captures the poetry and phrasing of the nineteenth century well, respecting a time when oratory was admired.

There is no set to speak of, beyond a single chair. The set is a phantom as well. Light and darkness define where we are. The jail cell is a rectangular box of light and the bars are created by vertical shadows on the prisoner’s face. Marc Desormeaux’s sound design adds the finishing touches. Celtic music hangs on the wind, birds sing in the courtyard outside the prison’s bowels and the ominous thud of the gallows trap door foretells the inevitable future that’s in store. Director John Koensgen allows the play to flow smoothly, never lagging but not rushed either. The dynamics flow naturally out of the story.
The writing captures the poetry and phrasing of the nineteenth century well, respecting a time when oratory was admired. Canadians do not celebrate our country's creation by revelling in the rockets red glare, so we may be lulled into believing that we were immaculately conceived in a spirit of cooperation. The birth of a nation never results out of a smooth labour and the play does not sugar coat the dark and violent side of our history. 
To me the most important convention to the play’s success is that we the audience become the jury. It is what connects us to Whelan and the cast of characters performed by Brault. He is a master dialectician and has a fine understanding of body language that helps create very distinct personae, but they all talk to us, the jury, which is why we never lose focus. Ultimately we decide if the verdict was fair or not; whether Whelan was part of a conspiracy or the victim of one.

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