Dangerous desires, conflicting memories & a questionable verdict in Village Players’ dark, haunting Tainted Justice

Katherine Anne Fairfoul, Chris O’Bray & Rob McMullan. Set design by Alexis Chub. Costume design by Livia Pravato-Fuchs. Lighting design by Jamie Sample. Photo by Dave A. Fitzpatrick.

 

Did an American drifter or family secrets kill the town innkeeper? The Village Players opened their production of Don Nigro’s Tainted Justice, directed by Victoria Shepherd, at their home in the Village Playhouse last night.

Set mostly in 1914 Cape Breton, Tainted Justice criss-crosses time and space, taking us through memory and past events to such varied places as the Klondike and Winnipeg in the years leading up to 1914. Estranged from her mother Tena (Katherine Anne Fairfoul) and uncle Bill (Rob Candy), Pearl (Jess L. Callaghan) returns home to Cape Breton looking for answers. Haunted by the events surrounding her innkeeper father Ben’s (Dennis Mockler) death, Pearl is determined to learn the truth—especially regarding evidence brought to light during the subsequent trial against the inn’s American guest Frank (Chris O’Bray), who was defended by Pearl’s cousin Jim (Andrew Batten), a local celebrity lawyer. Frank was found guilty and executed. What was the nature of her mother’s relationship with the accused? And who was really responsible for her father’s death?

Through a series of conversations, moments and witness stand testimony, we learn that Frank wasn’t a stranger to Bill or Tena when he arrived in Cape Breton. But there are conflicting accounts of when and where they met him—and the coincidences of Frank just happening to meet up with them in various locations across the U.S. and Canada are dubious to say the least. As the story unfolds, we see a seedy, dark underbelly emerge among this close-knit family in this quiet town—revealing hidden suspicions, and hinting at forbidden relationships and dangerous desires. Only Jim’s quiet, sweet wife Maudie (Peta Mary Bailey) and the calm, steady Crown prosecutor Hearn (Rob McMullan) seem to be immune from the dark influences of lust and family loyalty at all costs.

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Andrew Batten & Peta Mary Bailey. Set design by Alexis Chub. Costume design by Livia Pravato-Fuchs. Lighting design by Jamie Sample. Photo by Dave A. Fitzpatrick.

This play has everything: greed, lust, murder, family secrets. And Shepherd and the cast do a great job weaving past and present, memory and dream, and complex relationships in this true Canadian crime drama. Stand-outs include Batten’s cocky but amiable Jim; a gifted defender and eloquent orator, Jim’s drinking habit and laissez-faire approach to life mask a deeply troubled soul. O’Bray does a lovely job, both charming us and keeping us guessing about Frank; a mercurial, cheeky and well-read man with a flair for storytelling, Frank is a teller of tall tales at best and a con man at worst. A drifter and opportunist with a non-violent criminal record and at least four wives back in the States, like Jim says, Frank’s not the kind of guy you’d want marrying your sister. But is he a murderer?

Fairfoul’s Tena is a seductive cypher, also keeping us on our toes. Intelligent and beautiful, Tena is an ambitious businesswoman whose deepest desires run beyond real estate. There’s an edgy desperate housewife vibe and a dark air mystery about her. Did she bewitch Frank into doing her bidding? And Candy’s Bill is a complex combination of affable generosity and raging jealousy. Bill clearly loves his sister Tena very much and would do anything for her, including introducing her to the man who would become her husband (the murdered innkeeper Ben). But what exactly is the nature of that relationship—and are those feelings mutual?

With shouts to the design team for their work on bringing the past and present worlds of this haunting period crime drama to life on the small Village Playhouse stage: Alexis Chubb (set), Livia Pravato-Fuchs (costume), Jamie Sample (lighting) and John Stuart Campbell (sound and music composition). And to director Shepherd for orchestrating the multiple interwoven scenes and relationships as the characters traverse time and place.

Tainted Justice continues at the Village Playhouse until March 24. Advance tickets available online or by calling 416-767-7702. In the meantime, be sure to check out the promo video on the show page, featuring director Victoria Shepherd.

 

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Life, love & loss in a funny & touching family reunion – Marion Bridge @ Village Playhouse

MB_PosterDropped by the Village Playhouse on Sunday afternoon to see the Village Players’ production of Daniel MacIvor’s Marion Bridge, directed by Greg Nowlan.

Three sisters reunite at their Cape Breton family home to be with their dying divorced mother: Agnes, a struggling actress who’s been living in Toronto; Theresa, a nun whose order runs a farm in New Brunswick; and Louise, who stayed at home. Family history and present-day challenges converge in this funny, touching play – told with humour, honesty and heart.

Returning to the stage after a 10-year absence, Michelle D’Alessandro Hatt gives an outstanding performance as the fiery, strong-willed – and at times petulant – oldest sister Agnes, the “unconventional girl” in the family, struggling with alcohol and an acting career that’s going nowhere and leaving her broke. Lorene Stanwick does a lovely job with Theresa, the cool-headed, responsible middle sister, a wry-witted and sensitive nun facing personal trials of her own. And Anne van Leeuwen is delightful as the “strange” youngest sister Louise, child-like, straight-talking and longing to belong. All three actors do a stand-up job of capturing the sibling dynamic, at times shifting into childish interaction, the sisters’ individual roles in the family set long ago. All three sisters are lost, searching and bracing themselves for the coming loss.

Kudos to voice-over performers Erin Jones and David Borwick for their portrayals of Kara and Justin, two characters from the fictitious soap Ryan’s Cove, a favourite TV show of Louise’s that becomes a sibling diversion.

Marion Bridge is nicely staged on a minimalist kitchen set (designed by Steve Minnie) that evokes the place, and lets the actors and action take prominence – and filled with a beautiful, lyrical regional soundtrack (designed by Richard Green), including, of course, “Song for the Mira” at the end of the play.

Life, love and loss with three feisty Cape Breton sisters – the Village Players’ Marion Bridge is a lovely bit of storytelling.

Marion Bridge continues its run at the Village Playhouse this week Wed – Sat (closing Mar 22). Sunday was sold out, so I’d book ahead if I were you: 416-767-7102.