By SAM YEE and AMY ZHANG
When we learn about the the year 1918 in our Grade 10 history classes, most of the stories are about the end of the first world war: soldiers returning home from overseas, a time of celebration. Playwright Kevin Kerr’s Unity (1918), Lisgar’s second student performance this year, tells a story you may not have heard before. In October of 1918, a global influenza epidemic shook the world. Though overshadowed in the pages of history by the Great War, the Spanish Influenza proved far more deadly; in only four weeks of flu, more people died than in four years of fighting. This play focuses on the effects of the epidemic on the small town of Unity, Saskatchewan, presented as a series of diary entries narrated by the protagonist, Beatrice (Juliet Morrison).
Both the play’s range and the cast’s versatility stood out clearly in two particular, contrasting, scenes: the complete cast coming together after the intermission, and the dance scene. One of the most standout moments in the entire performance was at the very beginning of the second half following the death of Michael (Rafael Silva Salanova). Their grim, almost numb united delivery of the passage expressing the devastation of the Spanish Influenza on their lives was all the more tragic in contrast to Sissy (Capriale Walling-Moore) breaking down in one of the play’s most moving performances.
The dance, while much lighter in tone, made no less use of its talented cast members. Aside from one humorous interjection from Sally Khidayer’s chaperone, most of the scene revolved around Beatrice’s realization about her supposed beau, Glen (also played by Rafael). While his character makes one sole appearance in the play, he is certainly Beatrice’s closest link to the distant war, and it is fascinating, and sometimes amusing, to see Juliet’s delivery as Beatrice realizes that he is already engaged. The dance between the characters, too, stood out; as they are repeatedly told, they are not to make contact with each other, even while dancing, which, in addition to the everpresent masks, were a constant reminder of the looming flu, even in happier moments.
One particular scene that really captured the audience’s attention was when Hart (Aidan Prince), a soldier blinded by the war, was quite literally trying to find his way in the dark. The lighting crew shut off all the stage lights, so that the audience could become one with Hart. It was immersive, and an unexpected change of perspective that made his character truly intriguing. The audience could understand Hart’s struggle — not only as an outsider to the town of Unity, but also as a man shut out from the the light and colour of the outside world.
Although the cast gave a stand-out performance overall, every scene between Aidan Prince as Hart and Juliet Morrison as Beatrice was a treat. The chemistry between the two actors made for banter that felt natural and a friendship that felt genuine. Individually, both actors brought great life and realism to their respective characters; Juliet’s portrayal of Beatrice convincingly projected a young woman in a trying time, torn as she cared for her two younger sisters (and, eventually, the rest of the town) while struggling with her own internal conflict. Aidan’s excellent stage presence, balanced with his heartfelt delivery of his emotional moments, made his character one of the performance’s most compelling.
Capriale Walling-Moore gave a wonderful performance as the strong and sassy Sissy, who may be the most complex character in the play. For the most part, Capriale’s portrayal of Sissy was of a woman who is strong, assertive, and confident, though sometimes overly so. However, we also see other sides to Sissy in the play; in her moments with her lover Michael (Rafael Silva Salanova), she often appears sweeter and gentler. And even though she tries her best to hide it, there are also moments when Sissy is fearful of the impending doom of what she describes as “the end of the world.”
Although there were darker undercurrents throughout the play, it didn’t want for humour, either. Aliaa Mohamed as Rose and Yulissa Troncoso as Doris always succeeded in bringing comic relief to the play. Of course, no one can forget Rieke Bolson’s role as the scythe-bearing undertaker, Sunna, whose stony faced stage presence and delivery, often during otherwise somber moments, was one of the highlights of the show.
Finally, we can’t end this review without mentioning its spectacular director, Mars Gordon. We sat beside Mars during the play as they whisper-shouted stage directions and lighting cues and smiled at every perfectly delivered line. While the actors onstage put on quite the show, Mars’s attention to detail in their direction was definitely one of the play’s greatest strengths.
All in all, Unity takes a dark and morbid period in our history and shapes it into something a bit more humorous, while providing an emotional and compelling narrative about a small town’s strength in times of hardship.
This year marked the first year of the newly- created Drama Production class at Lisgar. Congratulations to all its students, as well as the head teacher Ms. Hunt-McCoy, who all worked harder than ever this past semester to put on some truly spectacular performances. You have our standing ovation.