Last Friday I took in the final show in Walterdale's 2013/2014 season, Jennie's Story by Betty Lambert, directed by Alex Hawkins. It tells the story of Jennie McGrane (Heather Brooke), a young married woman in 1938 Alberta who finds herself unable to have children because of a terrible injustice done to her when she was a naive teenager. There is much in the playbill about the reason for how this was allowed to happen, primarily the barbaric Eugenics Laws on the books at the time and the machinations of a trusted Priest (John Trethart) and her mother Edna (Syrell Wilson) who choose to go along with everything. It was a very thought-provoking piece and has stayed with me since. Although the history of the piece is important in itself, as Lambert was specifically writing about this to draw attention to it, for me it connected strongly to the fact that there are still people and policies determined to control women's reproductive freedom. A few weeks ago this story about a doctor in Calgary who refuses to prescribe any birth control due to her beliefs enraged me and the recent Hobby Lobby decision in the U.S. further emphasized the main theme of the play - that throughout history people have taken control of women's reproductive health and this is simply wrong and unfair. This is what resonated with me on seeing the play. From 1938 to 2014, we've come so far...
The show itself is very well done. Brooke has a real glow onstage and her Jennie moves from a cheerful earnestness to a desperate sadness over her loss. As her supportive husband Harry, Ryan Beck gives a thoughtful and intelligent performance. The rest of the cast rises to the challenge of supporting this story. The fifth cast member, Molly Dorval played by Molly MacKinnon is a lovely contrast to Jennie in her journey and characterization. The set, designed by Joan Hawkins, is picture-perfect, it's pastel colours and clean lines contrasting sharply with all the dirty little secrets. Overall, I liked the script, but there are a few repetitive sections that I thought were unnecessary as well as an occasional strange turn of phrase here or there that didn't quite work for me.
It is, however, a thoughtful night and worth the trip - plus, the theatre is air conditioned, which is quite nice on these hot summer nights! Show runs to July 12th at the Walterdale Playhouse.
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