Schoolhouse gets failing grade

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Categories: Uncategorized

Photo: Kanata Theatre

Schoolhouse

By Leanna Brodie

Kanata Theatre

Directed by Joy Forbes

 One scene in Schoolhouse depicts an amateurish production of a Christmas play. The sequence would be more amusing if it were a greater contrast to most of the other episodic scenes in a non-drama that drags from beginning to end.

Part of the problem is with the production style of this 2006 memory play by Leanna Brodie and part of the issue is that the writing is simply not particularly interesting.

Certainly, the one-room schoolhouse of yesteryear is remembered with affection by former students, teachers and, indeed, the entire community surrounding it. In rural areas across Canada, the small school was a social as well as an educational centre and so almost as important as the main church in the vicinity.

Other plays — Anne of Green Gables, for example — have made the school a key part of a drama or musical. Most recently, Elmwood School presented Jean Duce Palmer’s Miss Bruce’s War. Like Schoolhouse, Palmer’s drama is a memory play. Unlike, the choppy, episodic Schoolhouse, Miss Bruce’s War has gentle charm and a believable flow and the high-school production was outstanding.

By contrast, one of the most striking images in Schoolhouse is also one of the most distasteful — a detailed description of fattening songbirds and crunching their bones as they are eaten whole. There seems little reason for its inclusion. While the section covering the terrorizing of a small boy by locking him in an outhouse with the freshly butchered head of a cow is given more dramatic context, it, too, is heavy on unpleasant imagery.

In terms of the Kanata Theatre production, director Joy Forbes has placed her emphasis on the school as the focal point — almost the protagonist. As presented, most of the assorted scenes that occur in and around it appear as decoration rather than central to the main storyline. The through line that does exist (if you look hard) is the relationship between the teacher/narrator and the boy from the training (reform) school.

As the teacher, Miss Linton, Reba Sigler is believable as a young woman, much less so as the old Linton looking back. At one point, she has been directed to burst into tears and stretch forward face down on a table. This seems completely out of character for the feisty, in-charge type she portrays the rest of the time.

As Ewart, the outsider from the training school, Zachary Chabot is quietly thoughtful, which makes his outburst late in the play quite powerful. Some of the other students, particularly Sarah Fullerton, as Beryl, and Jonas Blackburn, as Milton, are convincing in their roles. The adults are less interesting, because neither the playwright nor the director makes them more than symbols or caricatures.

Despite some attention to detail in terms of lighting and props, such oversights as one of the adults (Cochrane) looking the same age and dressed much like a couple of the older students give evidence of less precision in other areas.

In general, Schoolhouse may be given a passing grade for effort by some but it certainly doesn’t make the grade as absorbing entertainment.

Schoolhouse, which is the Kanata Theatre entry in the 2017 Eastern Ontario Drama League Festival, continues to February 18.

 

Director: Joy Forbes

Asst. director: Tom Kobolak

Set:  Dorothy Shaw

Lighting: Iain McCracken

Sound: Justin Ladelpha

Costumes: Dael Foster and Marilyn Valiquette

 

Cast:

Miss Melita Linton……………………………………Reba Sigler

Ewart Rokosh…………………………………………Zachary Chabot

Beryl Baptie/the girl..…………………………………Sarah Fullerton

Dwight Varnum……………………………………….Simon Lindsay-Stodart

Effa Baptie…………………………………………….Olivia Case

Flossie Needler………………………………………..Laila burns

Milton Coyle………………………………………….Jonas Blackburn

Russell Yellowlees……………………………………Alex Henkelman .

Mr. Callum Yellowlees………………………………..Marko Pilic

Vern Yellowlees………………………………………Khalil Burns

Mr. Clinton Cochrane/Mr. Lionel Varnum……………Shawn Thorpe

Mr. Boyd Lebeau/The father/Mr. Ewan Coyte……… Jamie Fullerton

Colonel Tom Burnett…………………………………..Ramsey McDonald

Miss Evie Bothwell……………………………………Maryam Nour

Mrs. Zellah Baptie…………………………………….Anna Lisa Karhinen

Mrs. Coyte…………………………………………….Olivia Brown

Mrs. Varnum………………………………………….Suzan Flatia

Mrs. Millie Needler…………………………………..Halia Osadca