This weekend Stone and Sky is hosting its first annual Greek Revival Theatre Festival in the only authentic stone amphitheatre in the Americas (our own Pelee island quarry). And true to the tradition of the ancient festival of Dionysus, tragedy, comedy, political commentary and pino are flowing.
On Saturday evening, the genre was tragedy. Producer Kelly Daniels partnered with Windsor Feminist Theatre to bring a staged reading of Watching Glory Die to our beloved venue. This new play, written and directed by Judith Thompson, followed the true story of Ashely Smith who died in an Ontario prison in 2007. While the production could not be considered an uplifting evening at the theatre, it certainly gave its audience much food for thought.
Watching Gory Die was originally designed as a one woman show featuring three characters: Ashely Smith (referred to as “Glory”), Ashley’s mother, “Rosellen”, and the corrections officer that bore witness to her death, “Gail”. However, for this project they chose to cast these characters as separate actors. Recent University of Windsor grad Nathania Barnett played Glory, theatre veteran Kelli Fox took the role of Glory’s mother, and Kathryn Haggis step on as Gail.
Presumably, since the play was initially played by one person, it was structured primarily as a series of monologues, in which each woman shared her perspective on the events leading up to, and including Glory’s death. For this reason, the play came across as somewhat disjointed and lacked the drive of a dialogue-heavy script. Nevertheless, the prose itself contained moments of deep poignancy, political insight, and employed the kind of richly inventive metaphors Thompson is known for.
All three actors, although somewhat encumbered by the scripts they still needed to refer to, gave compassionate yet unyielding performances. This was especially true of Haggis who did not shy away from the coldness of Gale’s actions in the climactic scene, but made these actions, utterly, even uncomfortably understandable. For, as Thomspon’s play makes abundantly clear, it is not just the individual guard to blame for this tragedy, it is the entire penal system, and therefore all of us a canadian citizens.
In the Poetics, Aristotle describes Greek tragedy in terms of katharsis: a purging of negative emotion. This tragedy took the inverse approach; it was far more Brechtian as it left its audience infuriated by the absurd injustice of the status quo. Glory was no Oedipus, she was a lamb that didn’t have to be sacrificed, that should not have been sacrificed, but who lost her life anyway.
We wish Kelly Daniels, Judith Thompson, the cast, and the crew the best of luck in bringing this important Canadian story to the Edinburgh fringe festival in the coming weeks. Please join us at the quarry tomorrow night for the second production of the festival Doves at War. This show is intended as a compliment to tonight’s tragic tone and will depict an inspiring tale of a successful effort towards the pacification of the modern world lead by two daring women.