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.

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.



Titanic mystery & intrigue in Amicus Productions’ haunting, twisting Scotland Road

scotland road deck chair!Amicus Productions explores the romance, mystery and tragedy of the Titanic in its production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s Scotland Road, directed by Victoria Shepherd.

“The Titanic – a symbol of arrogance, glamour and tragedy – has captured the imagination and passion of generations … Scotland Road tells the story of a passion so powerful that it transcends time and logic, completing a journey that was started over one hundred years ago.” – Victoria Shepherd (from the Scotland Road press release)

This is a perfect play for director Shepherd, a Titanic aficionado with a wealth of knowledge about the subject and a great love of storytelling. The “Scotland Road” of the play’s title refers to the lower-deck passageway that ran the length of the RMS Titanic. The cast does a lovely job handling the layers of these characters – like the enigmatic young woman, rescued as she floated in period dress on a piece of ice in the north Atlantic, each has his or her own mystery, and even a secret or two.

West McDonald is aloof, arrogant and entitled as John, with a touch of ruthlessness and cruelty – or is it something else? Laura Vincent takes the mystery-shrouded Woman from a mute, statue-like victim to a haunted, dreamy and passionate survivor. As the Woman’s medical caregiver, Anne McDougall gives us a Halbrech with compassion and empathy, protective of her young patient, with a decidedly tough and irreverent edge. As the last living Titanic survivor Frances Kittle, Paulette St-Amour brings a wry-witted, no-nonsense attitude to a seemingly frail and elderly recluse. But no one is as he or she seems.

Big shouts to a fabulous design team – Alexis Chubb (set), Emily Haig (costumes) and Jamie Sample (lighting) – whose work creates a world that’s time-trippy and eerie, the sterile and sparsely furnished set bringing to mind a piece of modern, utilitarian architecture, an iceberg and even the Titanic itself. And to master carpenter Brent Shepherd for the gorgeous replica first class deck chair (made of oak and pictured in the set photo at the beginning of this post), and sound designer/composer John Stuart Campbell for the evocative and haunting original soundtrack (give a listen to the song “Take Me Down”).

A family affair production, the soundtrack also includes voice-over and backup vocals from the Shepherds’ daughter Vivien, with additional voice-over work from Christien Shepherd, and young family friends Oliver and Finn Scott.

So much goes on during the course of this long one-act “metaphysical fairytale” (thanks to Victoria Shepherd for this phrase) that just when you think you’ve figured it out and can see where it’s going, it takes another turn. Then it’s over. And so quickly.

Check out the trailer for Scotland Road.

But wait – there’s more!

Artist Matt Chapman exhibits his Titanic-themed canvasses and plays music from onboard the ship before each performance. Read about Chapman’s first solo exhibit.

Scotland Road runs at the Papermill Theatre at Todmorden Mills until February 8. Check the Amicus website for exact dates, times and ticket reservations.