In 1918, as the First World War was just concluding, a flu epidemic wiped out between 20 to 50 million people world wide with 50,000 deaths numbered in Canada. If contagion and disease sounds like a difficult subject to sit through for an evening of theatre, you'd be right. But Vancouver playwright Kevin Kerr uses it as only the backdrop for a larger statement on the impact of war and natural calamity on a rural town in Saskatchewan.
In fact, Kerr treats the theme of his play as one entity interrelating war as disease and vice versa. The town of Unity (a real place by the way) is shattered by both events until the name lives in word only - by the second act we are clearly walking down Division Street.
Kerr's narrative style does present some problems, especially for Tracy Michailidis as Beatrice who has the thankless task of advancing much of the story line by way of straight to the audience exposition speeches. The playwright gave her little to act save a monochrome of reactions to events that were heartfelt in their expression but emotionally linear.
Thankfully there is the comic relief offered up by the town's two telephone operators, Rose (Anne Anglin) and Doris (Nancy Beatty). This is juxtaposed with death itself in the character of Sunna (Ngozi Paul), the Icelandic immigrant who acts as the town's undertaker. Paul imbues the role with subtlety and quiet strength.
When Kerr does bring his characters together with internal dramatic action driving the story it is most effectively done through the returning veteran, Hart (with a fine performance by Greg Spottiswood). And too, Beatrice is also able to communicate her humanity in their scenes together when Hart, although physically blinded by the war, finally sees through the folly of his circumstances. As one might expect by this timewhat the war wasn't able to do, the killer flu was only too happy to oblige.
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