An Acre of Time

A lot of entertainment has flowed past in the last few months, but I've been too busy setting up my new computer to write about any of it. Now that the computer is working, I can write to you about last Friday night's play at the GCTC - An Acre of Time.

You may remember Phil Jenkins' book by the same name that came out a couple of years ago, describing what happened to a particular acre of the Lebreton Flats over the history of the planet. Well, we remembered it too and wondered how the playwright Jason Sherman could possibly make history into drama, other than having a spotlight shining on someone sitting on a stool reading the book. He managed to do it quite well, better than we expected.

After a filling dinner at Trattoria Italia with half a dozen of us, we walked over to the theatre for the show (some of us lingered over coffee while the early birds went ahead). While waiting for it to start, we got to admire the unusually large set - the wings of the theatre were gone, leaving a big open space, with an old campfire setting (made with rocks and pieces of brick, possibly from Lebreton Flats) and a large long very solid table (2m by 7m). Mysterious.

The play started with an NCC meeting to chew out a surveyor who was supposed to finish surveying an unsurveyed acre in Lebreton Flats as part of their continuing plan for the empty land. She had reported on the people and not just the land geometry, which upset the NCC. This wrapper of seeing things through the eyes of the surveyor as she explained her actions to the NCC worked pretty well.

Besides the surveyor, haunted by the drowning of her daughter, there were her crew and a few other people. There was the enthusiastic co-op student to run around and investigate the archives, and then see Samuel de Champlain going past on the river after too much heat exposure while surveying. There was the rod holder, a graduate of Algonquin, who was friendly with the student, which contrasts with Champlain's 12 year old wife. The surveyor's boss was a large jovial yet sad person, missing his dead wife and his pencil. There was her aide, the other surveyor. And an Indian scout, scouting for a movie production site.

While talking about some part of history, the surveyor would have a kind of flashback, and we'd see the event she was talking about. For example, the surveyor came upon Colonel Lebreton in the forest (she was imagining walking through the ancient forest of pines while surveying with a stick) and he got into an argument with her, complaining that she was trespassing on his land. His accompanying four daughters (all played by the co-op student, with a pirouette between well portrayed different young girls) provided the sense, as he lost half his brain at the battle of Lundy's Lane. Soon Lord Dalhousie appeared on the scene (the rod holder), with an effeminate portrayal (swooning at the word "canal"), at odds with Lebreton (good acting character contrast) as he tried to expropriate the land, but was foiled because Lebreton's partner was also the judge for the area (as the sensible girls reminded their "uncle" (I wonder what historical detail was behind that daughter / niece confusion)).

[Look for Duke Street on the map]Another example would be the great fire. This time the surveyor meets an old inhabitant of Lebreton flats who talks about the past, "faites attention". That brought back memories of the shops on Duke Street (see map), including a photographer (rod holder) who started taking the surveyor's picture, but spent his time telling the story of the great fire in enthralling detail. A more recent flashback by the old woman was to her father getting a letter from the NCC in 1962, saying nothing, and walking back to work to count numbers for the government.

Other memorable events were the Indian's soul reincarnating as a snow partridge and an almost New Yorkish musical number about immigrants moving from Russia to take over a junk yard.

There were a few politically incorrect things, like the woman talking about lumber yards like sex, or the historically accurate racism of the immigrants (French and Irish hate for each other). But without the incorrectness, it wouldn't be as much fun.

The part I didn't like was the surveyor's maudlin anguish over her daughter's drowning in the Ottawa river, while out camping with her estranged husband, and the resolution at the end. Was that needed at all in the play? I don't think so, the play would still fit together. But the playwright must have had a reason for it, and the related lonliness of the surveyor's boss.

The actors were of varying experience. Dennis Fitzgerald has quite a good voice and very good portrayal of forceful characters (Lebreton) and convincingly portrayed the lonely rejected widowed boss. Pierre Brault as the rod holder and photographer and Dalhousie has quite a good range of different characters, he's very amusing. Marie-Josée Lefebvre played the surveyor's aide and the old lady - her most notable role with quivering flesh and voice, though her young age spoiled the effect a bit. Catriona Leger played the student with the multiple nieces being her highlight. Gordon White did the scout and several other characters, the most memorable part of his minor role being the scene in the trailer.

As for the set, the long table was good for dancing on. The campfire was mostly used for memories of the dead daughter. The sound effects were good, particularly the rain storm in the trailer.

- Alex

Copyright © 2000 by Alexander G. M. Smith.