“The very places we imprison ourselves are where God will set us free.” This quote from You Don’t Know The Half of It expresses the theme of the play. This play had its premier performances in February at the Market Hall Theatre in Peterborough, Ont., a large sweeping space that allowed for fluid movement around the simple but effective set of freestanding doorways, pews and an altar.
The play was written by Peterborough resident and diocese of Toronto spiritual director Adele Finney and directed by Susan Spicer. These women have blended their talents to present a creative and original dramatic picture of a rural church in the early 1970s or of human nature in general – take your pick. The play is a history of, and set in, St. Thomas’ Anglican Church in Millbrook, Ont., in 1971 with names and details reinvented.
It deals with acceptance and non-acceptance of change through typical church characters. Two characters – the spirit of the apostle St. Thomas and the spirit of the long-standing previous rector of St. Thomas, Millbrook move in and out of the play, speaking only to one another; each with his own agenda. A fire that destroys the bell tower gives the new rector the opportunity to make the
changes he wants. The spirit of the previous rector, seen and heard only by the audience and the spirit of St. Thomas, is, of course, against any change that would require him to let go of “his” church. This role is played by a real life rector, the playwright’s husband, Gordon Finney.
The 12 actors are well cast and surprisingly balanced in ability, as they are an equal combination of professionals and non-professionals. Perhaps this balance comes from having “workshopped” the play together for the past four years.
The lead characters, two chancel guild ladies, Sarah and Hazel played by Susan Newman and Whitney Barris, were Mary and Martha type characters and were wonderfully human representatives of us all. Alison Jutzi, who played Jocie, the new rector’s wife, was particularly warm and sympathetic, and Jeffrey Aarles as the spirit of St. Thomas was a striking presence.
There is a great deal of wit and humour, much of it appreciated most by Anglicans. The producers even include a brief glossary of “Anglican terms” in the program such as font, ewer and vestry for the uninitiated.
Sally Armour Wotton is a writer and teaches liturgical drama at Trinity College Divinity School, University of Toronto.