One suspects that the National Arts Centre’s production of The Colony Of Unrequited Dreams will have its greatest success with those playgoers who haven’t read the Wayne Johnston novel that inspired it.
Playwright Robert Chafe’s earnest, well-intentioned adaptation frequently manages to engage the viewer — although on a somewhat brittle level. But it lacks the epic sweep and emotional resonance of Johnston’s fictional recreation of the early life of legendary Newfoundland Premier Joseph Smallwood and his campaign to bring a proud but troubled island nation into Canada in 1949. Indeed, Jillian Keiley’s production, although revelling in fancy visuals and clever bits of business, never really communicates the high stakes involved in the countdown to Confederation. Given that the turbulent referendum vote required a second run-off, such lack of tension is astonishing
Not just astonishing — also perplexing, given the drama that engulfed so much of Joey Smallwood’s life and career. But it’s also fair to suggest that it must have been a daunting challenge for Chafe even to try to get into the maddening, calculating mind of this so-called “last father of Confederation.” Wayne Johnston’s original attempt to do so in the novel went on for more than 500 pages, many of them devoted to Joey’s own first-person narrative. As tends to be the case with this type of memoir, whether true or fictional, you keep wondering how reliable the narrator really is — or, in this instance, is intended to be. (Continue reading » )