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The Playhouse Theatre Company

No Great Mischief 

Adapted by David S. Young from the novel by Alistair MacLeod with original music composed and arranged by M. J.Ross

Director Dean Paul Gibson Music Director Alison Jenkins Set and Costume  Pam Johnson Lighting Gerald King Sound Gordon Cobb Stage Manager Jessica Chambers

Dates 15 April - 6 May 2006 Venue Vancouver Playhouse Reviewer Jane Penistan

Duncan Fraser and Allan Morgan

From Cape Breton’s stormy shore to the depth of the mines at Elliott Lake, from rural family comfort to harsh, uncaring city streets, Alistair MacLeod‘s No Great Mischief is a story of the MacDonalds of Cape Breton. In oft-repeated tales, the heroic sagas of loyal bygone warriors are repeated down the generations and a family morality established. The family must and do take care of their own.

The narrator throughout is Alexander (Allan Morgan), the youngest child of a lighthouse keeper, who is orphaned at an early age and brought up by his grandparents, (Janet Michael and Jonathan Teague). His oldest brother, Calum (Duncan Fraser), becomes the head of the family, and as a fisherman, with his other brothers, keeps the family fed. He also revels in the old stories of Scottish history, with which he regales young Alexander, always encouraging him to become as belligerent and heroic as their Gaelic ancestors.

When hard times hit the Maritime fishing industry, Calum and his brothers, including young Alexander, go off to work in the mines at Elliott Lake. There they are joined by a brash guitar player, their kinsman from California, another Alexander. Obeying the laws of family and hospitality, the brothers befriend him.

There is rivalry between the Cape Breton and Quebecois mine gangs. During a holiday of competition, money vanishes, each team accuses the other, and in the ensuing fight, Calum kills one of French miners. In the meantime, Cousin Alexander disappears, leaving behind the stolen money. Calum is sentenced to prison whence he emerges several years later, a broken man.

The sequence of the play jumps from present to past and back again. Growing up in his grandparents’ house, young Alexander is not like the brother he idolizes, the hard working, hard living, hard drinking, larger than life Calum. Encouraged by his grandparents to be a good scholar and further his education, Alexander sets off to the mainland, to become a dentist.

As the fortunes of the MacDonalds deteriorate the role of the breadwinner of the family devolves upon Alexander. Now a practising dentist in Ontario, he regularly visits his aging grandparents in Cape Breton. This couple, played by Janet Michael and Jonathan Teague, are seen as ageless, through the many flashback scenes, as grandparents are remembered from childhood, until Alexander visits his grandmother shortly before her death.

After his release from prison, Calum becomes a hopeless alcoholic drifter, too old and broken spiritually and physically to find work in the soulless city of Toronto. Now Alexander visits him regularly and sustains him, in a reversal of roles of their earlier days.

Trying to drive home to Cape Breton in a winter storm, the two brothers are stranded on the causeway.  Together they navigate the car between ice and waves to firmer ground. But this is too much for Calum as he comes back home for the last time. Both Calum and Alexander are seen from childhood to elderly men, changing with the years. While Calum loses his strength and direction, keeping only his indomitable spirit of independence, so Alexander gains in wisdom and maturity.

The sets for this moving drama are full of atmosphere and visual spectacles. From the sweeping seacoast of Nova Scotia, the wind- swept, restless waves and the safe interior of the grandparents warm cottage, to the dark and menacing underground mines and the holiday  jollifications, to dreary city streets, the sights and sounds are hauntingly displayed.

In the cast of supporting actors each plays several roles with ease and aplomb, with a real sense of the personality of each character and its significance in the plot. They are a versatile company who can play instruments, dance and sing as well as act. The two principal actors, Duncan Fraser and Allan Morgan, are finely contrasted. Both are young, adolescent, mature or ageing in deportment, gesture, and voice as each vignette demands, with almost no change of costume. These are two brilliant and all encompassing performances of outstanding merit.

This closing presentation for the 2005-06 season at the Playhouse is one of this excellent season's successes, possibly its greatest.

© 2006 Jane Penistan