This production of Alice is the Atlantic Canada premiere of last summer’s Stratford Festival hit. How fitting that Alice would journey to PEI — the home of Anne of Green Gables! Long ago Mark Twain called Anne Shirley “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.”
To purchase tickets, call 1-800-565-0278 (902-566-1267) or order onlinehere.
♦ Jane Urqhart: Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
♦ Monika Lee: The Donnellys by James Reaney
♦ Michael Hurley: Perpetual Motion by Graeme Gibson
♦ Shani Mootoo: All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
“James Reaney is one of our best Gothic writers from Southern Ontario, and he is one of the most influential. He’s had a huge impact on a lot of writers who are more famous than he is, like Alice Munro and Margret Atwood,” says Monika Lee, Professor of English Literature at Brescia College.
More about Southern Ontario Gothic:
“James Reaney’s plays — Colours in the Dark (1969), Baldoon (1976), and The Donnellys (1974-7) — as well as his short stories “The Bully” and “The Box Social” (reprinted in The Box Social and Other Stories in 1996), also assume Gothic elements of the macabre rooted in nightmarish families and uncanny action. […]
What makes this locale so prone to Gothic tales is the failure of communication between family members or social groups. In the absence of communication, strange projections and psychological grotesqueries spring up and rapidly grow to unmanageable proportions. Malevolent fantasies are the source and sustenance of the Gothic tradition.”
—Michael Hurley and Allan Hepburn in The Concise Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, pages 593-594. William Toye, Ed., Oxford University Press, 2011.
A fool once caught a crow
That flew too near even for his stone’s throw.
Alone beneath a tree
He examined the black flier
And found upon its sides
Two little black doors.
He opened both of them.
He expected to see into
Perhaps a little kitchen
With a stove, a chair,
A table and a dish
Upon that table.
But he only learned that crows
Know a better use for doors than to close
And open, and close and open
Into dreary, dull rooms.
James Reaney, 1949
“The Crow” is from The Red Heart (1949), James Reaney‘s first collection of poems.
Poems Written About The Donnellys To Assist
The Renewal of The Town Hall at Exeter, Highway #4 *
Around Borrisokane, in Eire, the roads twist
After cowherds with willow gads, after wise woman’s spells,
After chariots and the widest go-around found in a mare’s skin.
But in Biddulph, Canada, in Mount Carmel’s brooder stove, St Peter’s fields,
The roads cross at right angles, a careful Euclidean net, roods, rods
Spun by surveyors out of Spider stars – Mirzak, Spicula, Thuban, Antares.
Like serpents, twitchgrass roots, dragons – the Irish roads twist,
The old crooked roads twist in the cage of the straight new.
We were horsemen, dressed well and from my brother’s entire horse,
From his entire horse came the colt fast fleet hoofhand with which
We seized and held onto the path through Exeter down to London.
We lifted the hills, creeks, rivers, slaughterhouses, taverns,
We lifted their travellers and those who were asleep when we passed
And those who saw us rattle by as they plowed mud or whittled.
We lifted them like a graveldust pennant, we swung them up and out
Till they yelled about wheels falling off, unfair competition, yah!
And we lie here now – headless, still, dead, waggonless, horseless,
Sleighless, hitched, stalled.
As the dressmaker hems my muslin handkerchiefs,
The night the Vigilantes burnt down one of their own barns,
As I sit waiting for a cake to bake and my gentle niece with me
I realize I am not doing what you want me to do.
You – bored with your Calvinist shoes chewed to pieces
By streets of insurance, streets of cakemix, packages, soap, sermonettes.
You want me to – you project a more exciting me on me.
She should be burning! Clip! Ax! Giantess! Coarse, I should curse!
Why should I accept these handcuffs from you?
James Reaney, 2005
* Respectively, the three speakers of these poems are William Porte, the Lucan postmaster, Tom Donnelly and Mrs. Donnelly.
Scene from the play: In Act I before the Donnelly stagecoach leaves the City Hotel in London, Mike Donnelly (driver) says:
“Are there any more ladies and gentlemen for Calamity Corners as ’tis sometimes called, St. John’s, Birr — my old friend Ned here calls it Bobtown, the more elegant name is Birr. Elginfield known to some as Ryan’s Corner’s, Lucan that classic spot if it’s not all burnt down, Clandeboye, Mooretown, Exeter and Crediton. If Ned here hasn’t sawn it to pieces, the coach is waiting for you at the front door and it pleases you.”
In this excerpt from an August 2001 interview conducted by Tim Struthers and published in the Spring 2013 issue of the journal Short Story, James Reaney sheds light on his fascination with the Donnelly massacre of 1880.
James Reaney first heard about the Donnellys from his stepfather when he was a child in the mid-1930s.
JR: I remember saying to my stepfather at the time, “Wouldn’t they have a door with a lock on it?” And he said, “Noooo, they wouldn’t have had a door with a lock on it. They had a piece of burlap bag across a hole in their shanty” … so that was pretty dreadful. Anyway I was scared out of my wits. It was only twenty miles away from our farm. We were pretty much right next to it all at one time. And I just couldn’t believe it.
In 1946, local historian Alice MacFarlane gave a paper on the Donnellys at a meeting of the London and Middlesex Historical Society at the public library in London.
JR: [Alice MacFarlane’s paper] had all the usual elements of the story that Kelley tells, that people tell about the Donnellys still. And when she got to the part in her paper about how the Donnellys cut out the tongues of horses … an old man rose up out of the audience and came at her with a shillelagh … And he said “They never cut the tongues out of horses. Out of people, yes!” … And then he stomped out…
But I was fascinated as I read this in The Globe and Mail … And I realized the Donnellys had friends. I never thought that before, you see.
TS: When was this?
JR: It would be 1946.
TS: While you were an undergraduate at the University of Toronto.
JR: Yes. I’d been thinking about writing a play about them. The Kelley thing [Thomas P. Kelley’s The Black Donnellys] had not been written by that time. He’s 1954. And you couldn’t write a play about the story my stepfather told. So finding out that they had friends made a big difference. I began to think in terms of a play about them that would be a tragedy, rather than the kind of thing where it’s not tragic at all and they should be exterminated as soon as possible (laughter). Like many a modern horror film.
Note from Susan Reaney: This interview is excerpted from the Spring 2013 issue of Short Story, New Series Vol. 21 No. 1, pages 115-116. See also “Winter’s Tales”, a poem James Reaney wrote in 1949, which makes an oblique reference to “…the massacre at Lucan / Where the neighbours killed all of the McKilligans dead.”
James Reaney wrote a trilogy of plays about the Donnelly family and the tragedy: Sticks and Stones (1973), The St. Nicholas Hotel (1974), and Handcuffs (1975). He also edited and wrote the introduction to The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta, published by The Champlain Society in 2004.
In this excerpt from James Reaney’s play Gyroscope, Gregory La Selva, lab technician, seeks to restore his self-esteem and win back the love of his wife, Hilda, a famous poet. To win Hilda’s respect, he must prove to her that he too can write poetry. He enlists the help of Mattie Medal, PhD student, to help him write a poem that will win him a place at the Harpers’ Poetry Guild alongside Hilda.
Scene Six: The Husband Takes a Chance on Being Skinned by Apollo*
PUZZLE gets down from the chair. We focus on MATTIE, with wagon, who is talking to GREG.
GREG: Look, is there some sort of crash course in writing poetry? I’d like to crack that bunch of Harp Guild Workshop Poetry ladies wide open. MATTIE: You’re a man; the contest is open to women only. GREG: I’m desperate enough for a sex-change operation. MATTIE: You’re just jealous of your wife. GREG: I’m even more ashamed of my sterility. I have no dreams. She is virile. I am not. HILDA: Gregory La Selva couldn’t write a poem if he tried. He should stick to being a poem. GREG: She’ll be sorry she said that. I’m going to do as you say and start remembering things from childhood, keep a diary, get a pen and an ink bottle. MATTIE: A typewriter is okay. GREG: I’m so dull, why hasn’t she left me ages ago? How do I get more introverted? Is there anything I could take? NICHOLAS: Did you look at my scrapbook of intoxicating mushrooms? GREG: Nicholas, it’s no use — showing me pictures of mushrooms. I want to see the mushrooms in person before I start collecting. NICHOLAS: Opium. GREG: Opium. MATTIE: Awfully good at first — friend did a thesis on it about it. Your mind starts out being a palace; then… the palace turns into a boarding house, then a flophouse for tramps, then the tenements of criminals whose windows are striped with bars. The palace has turned into a prison. GREG: I don’t care. Show me the palace, Nicholas, get me a dress. NICHOLAS: What’s your size? GREG: In a dress? (gives NICHOLAS a slip of paper) MATTIE: For a start, Mr. La Selva, underline the words you really like in this forty-thousand-word dictionary. Nicholas, go to Agnes Dactyl’s place and see what she has in second-hand dresses. Let’s see these measurements. Very well.
She gives them to NICHOLAS, who slowly proceeds to AGNES’s store.
Oh boy, this is a new part of my thesis – the birth of a poet…
*Note: “Being skinned by Apollo” is a reference to the fate of Marsyas, the satyr who challenges Apollo to a musical contest with the Muses as judges. In 1963 James Reaney wrote an adaptation of Euripides’ play The Bacchae (405 BC), which was never produced. In Gyroscope, Gregory La Selva disguises himself as a woman to enter Hilda’s poetry contest, just as Pentheus goes dressed as a woman to spy on the Bacchae’s Dionysian rites. Gregory wins the poetry contest and avoids the gruesome fate of Pentheus at the hands of the Bacchae.
Gyroscope was produced in a workshop at Western University in early 1980, and performed in a rehearsed reading at Blue Mountain Poetry Festival that summer. Keith Turnbull later directed the play at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, May 14 to June 21, 1981. The cast members were Jerry Franken, Janis Nickleson, Rita Jiminez, Brian Dooley, and Nancy Palk.