Archives: The Donnellys

Tarragon Theatre’s “The Donnelly Project” May 14 in Scarborough

Tarragon Theatre’s “The Donnelly Project” May 14 in Scarborough

Congratulations to the students of R.H. King and Agincourt Secondary Schools and students from the University of Toronto Scarborough for their wonderful outdoor performance of “The Donnelly Project”, a special adaptation of three scenes from James Reaney’s Sticks and Stones: The Donnellys Part I.

Adapted by Tarragon Theatre’s Playwright-in-Residence Kat Sandler, “The Donnelly Project” gives drama students from Scarborough the chance to explore an early Tarragon Theatre script. The Tarragon Theatre celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, and James Reaney’s Sticks and Stones: The Donnellys Part I was first performed there on November 24, 1973.

For more about the event, see “The Donnelly Project at Scarbrough Arts Park” and Eleanor Besly’s interview with co-director Zach McKendrick.

Photos courtesy Elizabeth Reaney, Saturday May 14 at the Scarborough Arts Park, 1859 Kingston Road, Scarborough, Ontario.

The Donnelly Project, Scarborough, Ontario

The Donnelly Project, Scarborough, Ontario

The Donnelly Project performers

The Donnelly Project performers

The Donnelly Project

The Donnelly Project (3)

The Donnelly Project, Scarborough, Ontario

The Donnelly Project, Scarborough, Ontario

The Donnelly Project, Scarborough, Ontario

The Donnelly Project, Scarborough, Ontario

Southern Ontario Gothic and James Reaney

June 4, 2015 — Southern Ontario Gothic was the topic of discussion on TV Ontario’s “Agenda” tonight. Panelists Jane Urqhart, Monika Lee, Michael Hurley, and Shani Mootoo recommend these titles for your Gothic fiction fix:

♦ 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.

June 3, 2015 -- Monika Lee champions James Reaney's The Donnellys as a true Southern Ontario Gothic work. TV Ontario: http://tvo.org/video/213864/southern-ontario-gothic

June 4, 2015 — Monika Lee champions James Reaney’s The Donnellys as a true Southern Ontario Gothic work. TV Ontario: http://tvo.org/programs/the-agenda-with-steve-paikin/southern-ontario-gothic

 

 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.

Watch the video here: >>>

 

James Reaney’s “Entire Horse”

Entire Horse

Poems Written About The Donnellys To Assist
The Renewal of The Town Hall at Exeter, Highway #4 *

I
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.

II
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.

III
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.

“Entire Horse” is from Souwesto Home, a collection of James Reaney’s poems from 2005 and published by Brick Books.

Stagecoach scene from James Reaney's play The St. Nicholas Hotel; the performers are Miriam Greene, Suzanne Turnbull, and Rick Gorrie (back row); Jerry Franken, Jay Bowen, and David Ferry (front row) at the Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, 1974. 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."

Stagecoach scene from James Reaney’s play The St. Nicholas Hotel; the performers are Miriam Greene, Suzanne Turnbull, and Rick Gorrie (back row); Jerry Franken, Jay Bowen, and David Ferry (front row) at the Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, 1974.             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.”

 

 

James Reaney on writing about the Donnellys

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.

The story of the Donnellys continues to fascinate us and has inspired many other playwrights, including Peter Colley and Paul Thompson. London historian and filmmaker Chris Doty restaged the Donnelly trial, and Jeff Culbert wrote and performed a one-man musical version The Donnelly Sideshow. Jonathan Christenson‘s rock opera version of the Donnelly tragedy, Vigilante, opened this month at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre.

Jerry Franken and David Ferry in The Donnellys

Jerry Franken and David Ferry in Sticks and Stones, at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, 1973

 

Video link to David Ferry’s lecture on Directing Reaney

Thank you all for joining us on October 20 for the Fourth Annual James Reaney Memorial Lecture to hear David Ferry’s talk on “Directing Reaney: From Black Feet to Main Street.” (If you missed David’s presentation, a video link is available on genienet.ca.)

Forty years ago on October 20, 1973, David Ferry began rehearsals for the Tarragon Theatre’s production of James Reaney’s Sticks and Stones: The Donnellys Part I. Earlier that summer, director Keith Turnbull and James Reaney workshopped the play in Halifax with actors David Ferry, Patricia Ludwick, and Jerry Franken, along with other actors from the Neptune Theatre.

David spoke about his experiences both acting in and directing the Donnelly trilogy, including The St. Nicholas Hotel and Handcuffs. Questions from the audience included what attracts actors to the plays, what are the prospects for future professional productions, and whether each play truly stands alone outside of the trilogy.

 

David Ferry's lecture on James Reaney, October 20, 2013 at the Stratford Public Library

David Ferry’s lecture on James Reaney, October 20, 2013 at the Stratford Public Library

Charles Maidment has posted a video recording of David Ferry’s lecture on genienet.ca. Thank you, Charles! (Be advised that this video is 58 minutes long and takes about four minutes to load. To boost the volume, click on the audio button at the bottom of the viewing screen.)

Many thanks to the organizers of the lecture at the Stratford Public LibraryCharles Mountford, Anne Marie Heckman, and Sam Coghlan — for your continued support of this event.

Next year’s speaker will be Tim Inkster, publisher at Porcupine’s Quill. See you then!

Here are photos David Ferry shared from his production of Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University in March 2013.

 

March 2013: Set for Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 2013: Set for Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

 

 

James Reaney Memorial Lecture October 20 in Stratford

Join us on Sunday, October 2o at 2:30 pm at The Stratford Public Library Auditorium in Stratford, Ontario, for a talk by actor and director David Ferry on “Directing Reaney.”

David Ferry was one of the original cast members of James Reaney’s The Donnellys Part I, Sticks and Stones, which was first performed in 1973 at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, Ontario.  He has won Dora Mavor Moore Awards for both his acting and directing, and recently directed James Reaney’s Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University in March 2013.

The annual lecture is a project developed by The Stratford Public Library and Poetry Stratford, and features a talk by a person who is knowledgeable about the life and work of Stratford poet and playwright James Reaney and of writing in the Southwestern Ontario region, which is such a strong element in Reaney’s writing.

The Stratford Public Library is located at

 19 St. Andrew Street,

 Stratford, Ontario

 N5A 1A2.

James Reaney’s Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University, March 14-18

Actor and director David Ferry is a Guest Artist at Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and he sends this good news about his work with the students of Bishop′s Drama Department:

Here′s a photo [from a scene in Act I] for your website — this is the first time we all got the Jacob′s ladders together in rehearsal!

Rehearsal for Sticks and Stones at Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec, February 19, 2013. Photo courtesy David Ferry.

February 19, 2013: Rehearsal for Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec.  Photo by David Ferry.

March 2013: Set for Sticks and Stones directed by David Ferry, Bishop's University

March 2013: Set for Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop's University Act II: Marionette for Lady Head: "I'm not just idly curious, Edmund. I wish to see her."

March 2013: Rehearsals for Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University. From Act II, Marionette for Lady Head: “I’m not just idly curious, Edmund. I wish to see her.”

James Reaney′s Sticks and Stones will be presented from March 14-18 at Bishop’s University. Our best wishes to the director, cast, and crew for a successful production!

Update March 17, 2013: David Ferry had this to say about the play’s opening night:

—Well it was a smash opening… gotta say the students so embraced the piece.

And ironically… we lost an actor day before opening, so guess who went on as Pat Farl and Donavan and others?

It was so weird saying those lines, dancing that fight (all off book by the way) in that play 40 years later, which I had also directed.

At the end of the third act dream sequence, after Mrs Donnelly says “Jennie, your father and I will never leave Biddulph.” we freeze frame on that snap shot and then from the gods two dead oak leaves float to the ground…”dead leaf, float light”

It is a special moment.

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones presented by Bishop's University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 15, 2013: Scene from Sticks and Stones at Bishop's University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop's University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop's University: No Water For Blackfeet

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University:    No Water For Blackfeet

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March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop's University

March 14, 2013: Sticks and Stones at Bishop’s University

 

Here are David Ferry’s program notes from Sticks and Stones:

James Reaney’s famous “Donnelly Trilogy” is arguably the greatest piece of English Canadian dramatic writing to have ever been produced in our professional theatre. Along with Michel Tremblay’s “Les Belles-soeurs” it became one of the few truly breakthrough pieces in our Canadian theatrical his/herstory. Certainly it was the crowning achievement in Reaney’s storied career.

A three time Governor General Award winning writer (winning for both poetry and drama) Reaney was really, like George Ryga, of the post Second World War generation of playwrights  that cleared the land for the younger generation of playwrights that followed.

When “Sticks and Stones, The Donnellys, Part One” first opened at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto in 1973, its effect on the theatrical life of the city and country was profound. As the Toronto Star opined, it was “just plain overwhelming.” Its success led to the production of the next two parts of the trilogy the following season at Tarragon, “St. Nicholas Hotel” and “Handcuffs”, and then all three plays toured from sea to sea.

As a young actor in that original “Sticks and Stones” forty years ago, I was in so many ways formed as an artist by that experience, and I still self-identify as a Reaney-ite. Doing the Donnelly plays certainly confirmed me in my nationalism. A close look at the plays will reveal what a breathtaking view Reaney had of his country. He doesn’t merely write about an infamous event in our past… the slaughter of the Donnellys by vigilantes in 1880s South Western Ontario… he writes about the creation of a new world and how the tendrils of the old world wrapped around its ankles and tried to pull, pull it down. Back into the past.

In “Sticks and Stones” Reaney  champions a family led by an extraordinary woman (Judith Donnelly) of vision and spirit. The play becomes in no small part a champion of this proto-feminist heroine.

While many of the Donnellys’ neighbours came with them from Ireland to settle in Biddulph County (around the town of Lucan,) few of them had the courage, nobility and determination of the Donnellys to create a new life that turned its back on the sectarian violence and prejudice of the Old Sod. Judith and James Donnelly were determined to start a new life that rejected the rules of the old world.

They chose their friends not by political allegiance or faith but by the strength of that person’s integrity and spirit. They set out to build a farm and a family that could grow without limitations. They taught their children to hold their heads up high. And the children did.

The Donnelly story, in Reaney’s hands, tells us of the evolution of a nation… starting with the agrarian society of those early farmer immigrants from Ireland, moving through the development of early commercialism and industry, to a political culture where the Church and political parties divided and conquered to form a modern Canada.

Reaney’s stage craft in telling HIS story is every bit as startling as his analysis of the evolution of Southwesto society.

As early as 1964 Reaney called for a National theatre that should be created in big wooden-floored rooms across the country; likely Orangemen halls or Masonic temples or Fisherman Union halls on non-meeting nights. He discussed in his 1960s journal “Alphabet” an approach ‘towards a poor theatre’ (before Grotowski) as well as an ’empty space’ and ‘Holy Theatre’ (before Brook). His plays broke through the fourth wall of Naturalism very early on in Canadian theatre, and his plays such as “Listen to the Wind” and ” Colours in the Dark” (Stratford Festival) are the antithesis of the kitchen sink naturalism of David French and others.

His Theatre is one influenced by three ring circuses, Beijing opera, Walt Disney films, puppet plays and children’s tickle trunks and magical make believe.

His stage is filled with the iconography of ladders, wheels, spinning tops, cats cradles, sticks and stones.

It may be challenging for you, the Audience, to make sense of Reaney’s story in a linear way.

It is, perhaps, best to sit back and allow the images and poetry to wash over you and overwhelm you.

Reaney once wrote that the writer’s objective should be to scratch though the bark of “local” in order to arrive at the “universal.”

With “Sticks and Stones” I believe Reaney arrived. In spades.

David Ferry was one of the original cast members of James Reaney’s The Donnellys Part I, Sticks and Stones, which was first performed at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, Ontario on November 24, 1973.

Recently David edited a collection of plays by James Reaney for Playwrights Canada Press: Reaney Days in the West Room: Plays of James Reaney. Seven of James Reaney’s plays are in the book, including The Killdeer, Names and Nicknames, Listen to the Wind, The St. Nicholas Hotel, Gyroscope, Alice Through the Looking-Glass, and Zamorna!

 

 

Port Dover students triumph in Sticks and Stones

Congratulations to Mrs. Val Smith and her Theatre Partnership class at the Port Dover Composite School on their very successful performance of Sticks and Stones in Port Dover on January 13th and 14th. Val Smith encouraged the cast by pointing out that this was “the most beautiful and most difficult text they had ever dealt with or would ever deal with in high school.”

Val Smith and the cast of Sticks and Stones, Lighthouse Festival Theatre, Port Dover

The students succeeded in both mastering the text and conveying the story to others. “This has been an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives,” says their teacher.

Program designed by Theatre Partnership students.

Sticks and Stones in Port Dover on January 13th and 14th

Students of Val Smith’s Theatre Partnership class at Port Dover Composite School will perform The Donnellys: Sticks and Stones on January 13 and 14 at 7 pm at the Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover. Tickets are $5 and can be bought at the door. For more about what promises to be a lively production, see Daniel Pearce’s story in the Simcoe Reformer.

The Champlain Society’s The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta back in print

As part of its mission to increase public awareness of, and accessibility to, Canada’s rich store of historical records, The Champlain Society has reprinted The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta, in a special paperback edition.

The monograph, edited and introduced by James Reaney, recounts the story of The Biddulph Tragedy of February 4, 1880, where “a body of men, blackened and masked, entered the dwelling of the somewhat notorious Donnelly family and murdered the inmates, the father, the mother, one son, and a girl, a niece”* in Biddulph Township near Lucan, Ontario.

James Reaney heard about the tragedy as a child: “The effect of my first hearing this story was paralyzing… It was my first glimpse of evil close to home.”**

***

*London Free Press Weekly, 12 February 1880 (See The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta, page xv and page 118)

**From the Introduction to The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta, page xxiv.

© 2017 James Reaney