The Tale of a Town St. Catharines: Review
There’s a moment in the stage performance of The Tale of a Town St. Catharines when Ron, an ink-stained minion under the employ of the marginally fictitious local newspaper The New Old Standard, screams out in exasperation, “this play makes no sense!”
In truth, The Tale of a Town St. Catharines makes perfect sense, because it is an accurate depiction of what can happen to a city when poor governance, apathy and economic attrition combine to lay rot to a once thriving downtown core. The Tale of a Town St. Catharines, a joint production of Fixt Point and Suitcase in Point Theatre Company, is a cautionary tale that tackles that subject in a wonderfully immersive multi-media comedy production now enjoying a limited run at the Odd Fellows Hall on James Street, St. Catharines.
The Tale of A Town Canada is a national initiative developed in collaboration with The National Arts Centre that aims to capture the collective community memory of Canada’s Main Streets one story at a time. Working off a script developed over four years and hundreds of interviews with local business and community leaders, The Tale of a Town St. Catharines is a poignant look at the decline of the downtown area using historical images and actual audio from the people who remember the glorious heyday of the Garden City. The play is laced with references to the city’s heritage, with original Standard publisher Henry Burgoyne acting as a muse for his fictional heir Henry Burgoyne III, manically portrayed by Dan Watson, and his team of employees. Their goal – publish the first edition of The New Old Standard by reporting “new news the old way,” laced with nostalgia for the halcyon days of St. Catharines.
What ensues is a riotous peek into a dysfunctional newsroom trying to launch their newspaper by writing the perfect story about St. Catharines. Co-starring Suitcase in Point’s Deanna Jones as Betsy, the under-appreciated wife of the publisher, The Tale of a Town St. Catharines is a surprisingly informative pseudo-documentary that uses headlines to reflect the rise and fall of the once great economic hub of Niagara. Originally slated to open the new First Ontario Performing Arts Centre, the production instead benefits from the intimacy of the Odd Fellows Hall on historic James Street, just down from where Jerry’s Alley used to be, around the corner from where The Opera House, Diana Sweets and Eaton’s used to be, a short hop from where the YMCA used to be – you get the picture; actors Robert Feetham (Ron), Dawn Crysler (Johnny Knickers) and Edwin Conroy Jr. (Skip) join Watson and Jones in delivering spirited performances that help draw the audience into the story of a city agonizing over the loss of its cultural icons, unique architecture and historical charm.
With a brilliant scene that manages to visually capture the human exodus from the core using only a collection of coffee cups and toy cars, The Tale of a Town is both cleverly written and wonderfully acted. It is also inspirational; in the end, the lesson we’re left with is that reverence for the past can often blind us to the wonders of the present and a bright future -- like the one now unfolding in downtown St. Catharines. This is a highly recommended production for anyone who has a heart for the Garden City.
By David DeRocco