Except for the ending and a couple of niggles, I liked this production a lot.
The cast was very strong, without a weak link, the script was multi-dimensional and intelligent for the most part, costumes were effective, music was a bit predictable.
Moodie’s script is based on the life of Elija McCoy (1843-1929), an Ontario-born black genius engineer and inventor of numerous still-used designs (portable ironing board, lawn sprinkler, and especially steam engine sustained lubrication which meant that trains didn’t have to stop constantly for time-consuming lubrication by hand.)
I like the method of this script, which I have previously used myself (in A Song After Living), wherein a cast of seven takes multiple parts in a fits-all set that allows for leaps in time and space. In this construction, transitions are all-important, and Moodie’s script handles that element very well. Particularly notable is the transition from young McCoy to adult McCoy. One of the character interplays that I thought Moodie handled particularly well is the shifting attitudes of the two white brothers towards McCoy. As well, I liked the unifying return of themes.
Several of the actors were quite familiar to the audience because of their television roles. Marcia Johnson impressed me with her nuanced performances in a variety of roles here. They were characters who could have been very stereotypical , but to whom she gave just that bit of quirky individuality that brought them to life.
Bruce Beaton, who played McCoy’s Scottish engineering professor and mentor, one of the brothers, and other characters, was able to switch from being a scene pivot to being a foil in a performance that looked effortless, but requires great concentration.
Kevin Hanchard, played two significant roles, primarily as young McCoy and as a free-wheeling fixer who gets McCoy his first job. Hanchard really milked both roles, particularly the latter, but the contrast between the serious McCoy and the wheeler-dealer fixer was delightful.
Ardon Bess, familiar to audiences as Nestor in King of Kensington, primarily breathed tangible life into McCoy’s emotional father who both supported his son unstintingly and broke with him for his religious views.
Maurice Dean Wint played the central role of Elijah McCoy as an adult. He cut an imposing figure, portraying McCoy as a man who observed but, like his father, seldom listened.
I was struck by the wit and intelligence of the script, which handled transitions and the logistics of character changes very well. Throughout the bulk of the play, I was wondering what had soured print and broadcast media on the production until I found the answer in the latter moments of the play. There is a moment towards the end, when Wint reaches into the ever-present prop box and picks out a disk which becomes a steering wheel. The boxes become an automobile, and shortly thereafter, the lighting changes, the action becomes surreal slow motion, and the play degenerates into something entirely inconsistent with everything that has gone before. Quickly, McCoy goes into dementia after the death of his wife and child. Good enough, but the play shows this more or less through the glass of McCoy’s mind, and this makes for some very weird moments that lose everything that has gone before. Whereas before that instant, I had felt very strongly that I was watching a well-done solid play, from that moment on, I was doubting the previous two hours. When teh curtain calls came, I was not very disposed to clap, but remembering that I had enjoyed what happened before, I made a positive note to applaud what had made sense.
By and large, the set was ingenious and effective, except for the two wing pieces, which looked a bit like the facades of a railway station, but unfinished. The cedar shingled roofs, which were very prominent, should have been broken down with paint of texture of some kind. The raw shingles just looked unfinished.
Costumes were effective and well-suited to the period and the demands of the action.
Lighting was certainly more effective than the previous outing’s.
GCTC’s season thus far has not repeated last season’s trend of offering short pieces as an evening’s entertainment, thank goodness. I can only hope this trend of presenting real, full-length plays will continue.