King-ly story barks up the right tree
Some Greater Name
At McManus Theatre
"Silence in one's soul is a good quiet." Some Greater Name is full of similar poetic gems. Twenty-two-year-old Jillian Horton has written a play with an insight and objectivity that belies her age. This play, with a musical direction, is the tale of William Lyon MacKenzie King, the longest-serving prime minister in Canadian history and his faithful dog, Pat.
Watching this play, I couldn't help but wonder if, in view of our Canadian currency, the looney was named after King. The only person who has done more in our country's history for psychic friends is JoJo Simard! King is infamous for his obsessions with seances, spiritualism and magical signs.
The fact King's closest relationship with a living being was with his dog says a lot about the man. The fact his second-closest relationship was with his dead mother says even more. Such sensationalistic aspects to King's life are perfect fodder for the comedic elements in this play. Yet Horton wisely wrote them secondary to her themes of faith and morality.
This play is set during King's reign as prime minister, after his mother had died and up until the time he resigned as leader of the Liberal party. The relationship between the man and his best friend is beautifully portrayed.
Local actor Jim Doucette portrays King and P.E.I. native Rachel Jones plays King's beloved terrier. Director-professor Richard Green says "Doucette is basically a comic actor. Therefore, this role is a challenge for him. Jones is strong dramatically. We had to have performers who could both sing and act."
The production team has chosen its actors wisely. Doucette has the needed charisma to be effective as a politician. Because King is an historical figure and not a personality familiar to theatre-goers, Doucette could concentrate on characterization and not impersonation.
Yet King did have certain mannerisms while giving speeches, mannerisms that Doucette has down pat. Jones as the dog, Pat, glows in a role that for a lessor actor would not be believable. She has an unusual look and an original voice that effectively conveys the non-human qualities of this terrier.
The viewer suspends belief and accepts her as man's best friend. Quite an accomplishment. The director has reigned the actors in for a couple of wonderfully restrained performances. He doesn't allow for Disney-sentimentality to creep in.
Kudos must go to the creator of the show, Jillian Horton. Not only has she thoroughly researched her subject, she has created original prose and music. She accompanies the performers on stage as pianist. This is her vision all the way.
And what a vision it is. Symbolism is there for an audience to discover. At one point King looks to the heavens and prays "Do not forsake me mother." Earlier on he compares his mother to Christ. She rates a close second. King's character speaks of his first garden as a "second Eden." He tells Pat his "word is my gospel" and "I am to you an awesome god I think." Pat for her part has lines like "I've sinned gravely," "I saw a sign" and asks "When does a soul come to ruin?" The dog even prays to "God in heaven."
For an audience hungry for intellectual stimulation, Some Greater Name is a godsend. You are presented with characters you've never seen before, characters that actually existed. These characters have personality plus. They will make you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. Then you have actors who have the charisma to pull it off. The further you get into the play the less you think of King as a loon and the more you feel you could be watching home videos of any current politician. The "Civil Servant Song" is one highlight of the show. Mike Harris should be required to view it.
Horton is a Manitoba native completing her MA in English at Western. Six years ago she won a Richard and Jean Ivey Scholarship. Her training has paid off. Some Greater Name is a richly layered work by a bright, young playwright.