Volume 96, Issue 65
Friday, January 24, 2003

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THEATRE REVIEW: Blood on the Moon
Controversial verdict revisited

Blood on the Moon
Written and performed by: Pierre Brault
Directed by: John Koensgen



By Christopher Hodge
Gazette Staff

Peter Knippel/Grand Theatre
"LET ME OUT, I SWEAR I DIDN'T DO IT!" Actor Pierre Brault spends some time behind bars in Blood on the Moon.
Astonishing, simply astonishing – that best describes Pierre Brault's performance in the one-man play Blood on the Moon. Brault is an actor at the top of his game in a play that he single-handedly wrote and created. It is a brilliantly crafted tale that reveals Brault's talents as a storyteller and dramatic actor, and its story is as moving as it is haunting.

Set in Ottawa during 1868, Brault plays James Patrick Whelan, an Irish immigrant accused of murdering the honourable Thomas D'Arcy McGee, a member of the Canadian Parliament, and one of the Fathers of Confederation. Based on a true story, the play follows the events leading up to Whelan's arrest, incarceration, trial and subsequent execution, in what was to be Canada's last public hanging.

Brault brilliantly captures the essence of the accused. It is apparent that he is a man pleading for his life. Scared and confused, Brault portrays the humble tailor as a spirit, permanently suspended in a limbo surrounding the events of the trial. Now, over 100 years later, he appears before the audience, speaking to them in a vain attempt to plead his innocence once again.

Bitterly convinced that he has been wrongly accused, he challenges the audience to examine the circumstances that lead to his arrest, and goes systematically through the evidence that leads to his conviction. He begs the question, "Was justice served?"

In addition to playing Whelan, Brault also portrays an entourage of characters that includes both the defense and prosecuting attorneys, the judge, as well as a variety of colourful witnesses, including a lumberjack and a corrupt private investigator. Outfitted in a plain white shirt, black pants and suspenders, Brault is able to seamlessly leap from character to character, without the aid of any props or wardrobe changes.

With a sparse background and lack of props, there's not much to look at on the stage, except for Brault, and a small wooden chair. Brault grabs hold of the plain chair and is able to transform it into a variety of different sets, including a witness box during the trial and the scaffolding used to hang Whelan during the execution. No other actors interrupt Brault, nor are there any obtrusive set pieces to distract the audience. Only the lighting and sound aid Brault's performance.

Martin Conboy's lighting is neither intrusive nor lacking, and it emphasizes the production. During one scene, Conboy is able to place Brault in the warmth of the open courtyard of the Ottawa prison. Then, in a split second, he is able to confine him in a cramped stinking prison cell, all through skillful use of lighting.

Marc Desormeaux's use of sound is subtle, yet effective. He avoids overburdening Brault's performance with the use of too many accompanying sound effects. In one scene, facing a 20-foot wall of concrete in the prison courtyard, Desormeaux allows the sound of the distant world to pour in over the walls, emphasizing the cruelty of Whelan's imprisonment.

This clever use of cinematic techniques gives the performance a supernatural feel. What the play lacks in material design, it makes up for with the use of only a few lights, minimal sound effects and superb acting.

Soon to depart for a tour in Ireland, Blood on the Moon is a must-see for any theatre goer. It is a wonderful, haunting play that blows the dust off of one Canada's most intriguing murder mysteries, and will entertain even the most staunch opponent of live theatre.

Blood on the Moon runs at the Grand Theatre until Jan. 25.

–with files from Kirsty Boudah

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2002 THE GAZETTE