JC’S THEATRE SPOTLIGHT – Pugwash
COMPANY: Ship’s Company Theatre, Parrsboro
DATES: July 5 - 30, 201
SYNOPSIS: Cyrus Eaton was a wealthy and powerful financier in the American Midwest. But he never forgot his beloved hometown of Pugwash, NS. In the mid-1950’s Albert Einstein was amongst those pushing for an international conference of the world’s greatest scientific minds, a “think tank” with the expressed goal of reducing the risk of nuclear annihilation. Eaton believed that such thinking would best be done in a silent, contemplative location – enter Pugwash. And thanks to Eaton’s underwriting of the event, these think tanks became an annual occurrence, the “Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs”. In Vern Thiessen’s play, the invasion of tiny Pugwash by 22 of the world’s greatest geniuses for the inaugural Conference is seen through the eyes of two local youngsters, Conni McPhee (played by Gina Thornhill) and Jamie Gillis (Henricus Gielis), who become intertwined with the events of the conference, and in Jamie’s case gets in waaaaay over his head.
HIGHLIGHT: Thiessen is a gifted playwright who’s had his shows produced across Canada, the States, Britain, and Europe. He’s currently working on projects in NYC, Vancouver, Toronto, and at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. But Vern was in attendance at the Gala Opening for Pugwash last Friday night, and is justifiably proud of this new work. Ship’s Company is famous for telling great Nova Scotian stories, and this is one of the best. Choosing to focus on the storyline of a young girl tutoring one of the Japanese delegation, and a young boy spying on the private sessions on behalf of a rabid American press, adds intrigue and fun to a storyline which, while high minded and lofty in its ambition, could be a wee bit dull. Kudos as well to Lighting Designer, Vicky Williams, for rising to the challenge of bringing this theatre-in-the-round (well, “square”) from inside a big box warehouse of a theatre to the shores of the Northumberland Strait … a highlight being FX such as fires, sunsets, and lightning that help grip your imagination and bring those scenes alive. Set Designer, Garrett Barker, should be credited too, for the giant street-map of Pugwash that occupies the majority of the stage, giving you an immediate sense of the village and its location.
SHINING STARS: I would not fault anyone for thinking that Ian Leung as the Japanese delegate, Ogawa, and Theo Pitsiavas as the Russian, Alex, really need to work on their English. Both are thoroughly believable in their roles as scientists, struggling within the Conference’s goal of keeping ideology out of the discussions. And of the two younger characters, Gielis, in particular, shows tremendous range and flexibility in a very physical role – Jamie Gillis seems constantly in motion, when he isn’t stuffing himself under a conference table to spy on the debate.
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE THIS: I love learning stuff about the communities in our own backyard – stories that are so mind-blowing you’re forced to do a little research of your own! “Did this really happen??” I’ve spent the last few days reading about the Pugwash Conferences online. In 1994 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin for their recent contributions to middle east peace. Okay, that sounds about right. Then in 1995, the most prestigious of world prizes went to a tiny Nova Scotia town for its annual conferences "for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms". Mind … blown. If any of this is news to you … and you’ve never been to the wonderful Ship’s Company Theatre in gorgeous downtown Parrsboro, well … road trip!!
Photos by Clare Waque.