Dates and Venue 3 – 8 February 2009, 8pm; 2pm matinees on Feb 7 and 8 | Capilano University Performing Arts Theatre, North Vancouver

Director Colin Legge Set Design Travis Stocking and Jeremy Izad Lighting Matt Oviatt Costume Design Naomi Sider Stage Manager Garreth Lau

Reviewer John Jane

For scholars of the turbulent history of Canadian confederation, two dates are of particular note: November 15, 1976, the day that Canadian unity was shaken to its core when the Parti Québécois won a majority in the Quebec Legislature and April 1, 1949, when Newfoundland became Canada's newest province and Joseph Smallwood became the first premier.

It may be just coincidence or it might be careful planning. With the approach of the 60th anniversary of Canada’s tenth province becoming a partner in confederation, the timing of Capilano University’s Theatre Arts Program production of 1949 couldn’t be more significant.

If playwright David French’s simple title doesn’t entirely give it away, Travis Stocking and Jeremy Izad’s quaint set and Naomi Sider’s period perfect clothing certainly confirms that the year is 1949 and we are in the Mercer’s modest home in Toronto on the eve of Newfoundland joining Confederation.

Newfoundlander Jacob Mercer’s extended family, much like the folks they left behind on ‘the Rock’ are split on whether the affiliation will be beneficial. Rachel (Rachel Taylor), the family’s matriarch is visibly opposed to the deal, to the extent of wearing a black armband, whereas, Jacob (Xavier de Salaberry), his wife Mary (Brynn Peebles), and her sister Dot (Brianna Wiens) see that there may be advantages.

Amid the political drama, there are issues much closer to home: Mary's former suitor, Jerome McKenzie (Clifford Upham) now a successful journalist makes both his personal and political feelings known – much to Jacob’s chagrin. Dot and Wiff Roach are a childless couple and may have to stay that way unless they decide to adopt. Jacob and Mary’s sons, Ben and Billy are having problems at school with both their teacher and their classmates who regard them as immigrants.

Tristan Bacon and Glenn Crossley each turn in strong performances as the Mercer siblings, Ben and Billy. It can’t be that easy portraying a ten-year-old when you’re nearly six feet tall, but these two young actors are very convincing and bring levity to some weighty issues.

Brynn Peebles and Brianna Wiens play sisters Mary and Dot with strength and passion. Xavier de Salaberry has the most lines to remember as Jacob and handles the “Newfie” accent as well as anyone. Clifford Upham and Courtney Shield deserve being mentioned for their meritorious performances in supporting roles.

The challenging and complex dialogue did exact a toll on opening night with a few dropped lines and the odd missed cue, but it didn’t detract from an otherwise fine, all-round performance.

Student theatre simply doesn’t get better this – David French’s clever writing, Colin Legge’s keen direction and on-stage performances by a hard-working young cast of theatre arts students combine to make this play a piece of Canadian theatre that could be enjoyed by everyone.

© 2009 John Jane