Needing a baby for Jennie
The Palace Theatre
"If you're a bad girl you're still a good Catholic" is not only one of the best lines in Jennie's Story, but it does succinctly hint at the theme of this drama. The line between tragedy and comedy is razor thin. London Community Player's production of Jennie's Story walks that line successfully.
A man, a woman, sex, a priest and God. Powerful ingredients for a sensational story. Thankfully, Canadian playwright Betty Lambert has sensitively and honestly written about a disturbing chapter in Alberta's history. In l923, the province introduced the Sexual Sterilization Act to prevent the "unfit" from procreating "transmission of the evil" the law called it. In l937 an amendment was passed making it possible to sterilize with a relative's consent. This play is set in the following year, l938, in the home of Harry and Jennie McGrane who run a farm in Alberta.
Appearances can be deceiving. Jennie (Sue Mei) is a hard-working, devoted wife who longs to have a child with her loving husband Harry (Brian March). She seeks the blessing of her priest, Father Fabrizeau (Jan-Michael Weir), but to no avail. Her workaholic mother (Sheila Patterson) trains a young girl, Molly (Lisa Healy), to look after the farm so Jennie can go see a doctor in the city. Behind this facade, dysfunction reigns supreme.
Although the characters speak in terms of black and white extremes, there are no black and whites to this drama. The colour is grey. Even the innocent bring their own baggage to this home. Every character in this play has a secret. They hide behind their work, whether that be farming, housecleaning or the work of the Lord. Although the play is set 60 years ago, the moral issues, the religious factor, the family dynamics are all relevant today.
Jennie's Story is head and shoulders above most dramas of this nature. It is extremely well-written. The audience feels for these characters. We are asked to ponder the institutions and bureaucracies that motivate these characters to make the choices they have. Due to the seriousness of this play, it was a relief not to see revolving set pieces, set changes that jolted the rhythm of the action. Despite the occasional glitch, the set and lighting complemented the story without upstaging the acting. And although direction needed to be a little tighter for a more flowing storyline, without a doubt, it is the acting which makes Jennie's Story come alive.
From the moment March and Patterson walk on stage, you can not take your eyes off of their characters. They are real people. Their facial expressions, hand gestures and voices are totally natural. We listen and believe what they're saying because we are not conscious of their acting. Mei has the most demanding role as Jennie and she keeps up with the spirit, energy and emotions the role requires. Weir as the priest wisely displays restrained emotion in his scenes. Healy as Molly acquits herself admirably. Her youth and exuberance in performing complement the role she plays. Everyone in this play is ideally cast.
Jennie's Story is a drama that effectively deals with universal themes by means of realistic humour and pathos. In this case art does imitate life.
©Gazette file photo
THOU SHALT COVET THY NEIGHBOUR'S WIFE. Jan Michael Weir (left) stars as Father Frabrizeau, seen here pleading with Jennie (Sue Mei). Jennie's Story is playing at The Palace Theater through Saturday.