By Joe Szekeres
A small picture of our Canadian History came fully alive on the Town Hall stage in Port Perry at Theatre on the Ridge’s preview performance of Robert Chafe’s ‘Tempting Providence’. To borrow from ‘Come from Away’ now playing in Toronto, we were heartily and warmly welcomed to The Rock in this story of a remarkable woman who brought her vision of tending to those in need in a small out port Newfoundland community.
‘Tempting Providence’ is a part of our history of which we can all be deeply proud thanks to director Jeannette Lambermont-Morey’s intelligent and smart direction based on real events in a real person’s life. She has assembled a cast of highly capable performers who naturally made me believe every single word they had spoken. You’ll have to pay careful attention as these actors realistically incorporate the East Coast dialect sound and rhythm of Newfoundlanders with such ease that I honestly believed every single one of them came from the province. We might not be able to understand every single word but that’s real life when we listen to a true Newfoundlander speak. We can get the gist.
And I got the gist. And was hooked.
Young British nurse Myra Grimsley (a radiant Frances Loiselle) ‘tempts providence’ by taking a risk in an assignment to a remote community in out port Newfoundland shortly after WW1. Initially, she has agreed to be here for two years. She meets her future husband, Angus Bennett (a dashingly affable Duncan Gibson-Lockhart), and makes the decision to stay with him even after her contract expires. Demi-Lee Bainbridge and Daniel McCormack play multiple roles of neighbours, patients and townspeople who enter the lives of the remarkable Myra Bennett and her work in the small community. There are some amusing times as Myra learns how to adapt to life outside of her home. I don’t want to spoil the fun for future audiences.
A sound choice was made to utilize musicians Manon Ens-Lapointe and Michael Williamson who helped to set the mood for fifteen minutes downstairs in the Patrons’ Lounge before the performance began. During the run of the play, music is also used and I was reminded once again how it seems to be in the blood of the east coast residents. The staging of the kitchen party brought a smile to my face as I would love to attend one sometime soon. Ms. Ens-Lapointe and Mr. Williamson appeared to enjoy themselves, and that made me enjoy hearing them play.
Carey Nicholson’s set design makes effective use of the playing space. There is a large riser centre stage with a table just slightly off centre. Surrounding the riser are various props and chairs the cast uses for each scene. The cast never leaves the stage but sits either to the right or left side when the scene doesn’t focus on them. Colin Hughes’ lighting design finely transitions us between each of the scenes without that awkward blackout. Judith Sanders and Sheila Nicholson’s work in costume coordination and construction nicely evoke the earth tone colours of the period.
Frances Loiselle’s work is captivating while radiating a true commitment in playing and understanding the complex Myra Bennett. Yes, Myra is all business like and formal when she receives her first patient who tries to make fun of her in that she won’t survive the rough winters. I especially liked how Ms. Loiselle was in firm, tight control when she tells the patient who exactly is in charge in her office. As Myra and Angus’s relationship continues to grow, the silent looks of caring and compassion between Ms. Loiselle and Mr. Gibson-Lockhart said everything to me without either of them needing to say a word to each other.
There is a highly dramatic moment in Act 2 where Loiselle, Gibson-Lockhart, Bainbridge and McCormack successfully tugged at my heart. I had to put my pen down from making notes in my book and simply watch what unfolded. Truly gut wrenching to feel the emotional intensity emanating from the stage. And this was a preview night. I can only imagine that moment will continue to build stronger and stronger as the run continues.
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