Powerful play deserves bigger audience

Debra Bob’s play at Powerhouse explores residential schools legacy

A simple but powerful set greets the audience at Powerhouse Theatre as they wait for Sisters to unfold before their eyes.

And it quickly becomes evident that the simplicity of the three sets in one lends itself perfectly to a play that delves into the tragedy of the residential schools legacy in this country but also takes aim at the eternal questions of choices, and faith, and trust in authority with unintended consequences.

But despite its religious theme this play doesn’t preach so much as reveal what happens when truth is ignored and discipline and rigidity are adhered to despite a feeling in your gut that something is terribly wrong.

The play takes place simultaneously in three different places at three different times — a county lockup in rural Nova Scotia in 1969, a farm in Nova Scotia in the late 1950s and the Maritime residential school in the late 1960s — as the story of Sister Mary’s journey from idealistic youth, to questioning nun, to devout but tortured soul is wonderfully tied together through strong writing and an ensemble of actors that deserve much praise.

Although it sounds complicated, it may take a few minutes to figure out how the sets may be set aside in time and space but are eternally and magically intertwined, it begins to flow and weave its tragic but heartfelt story in a way that’s accessible to all.

And although it’s a story about a dark period in our 150-year-old history, this play has spunk and a sense of humour that allows the audience to be engaged without being hit over the head.

These people are believable and real and the play packs a wallop. The opening night theatre was only half full and that is a shame because this production deserves to be seen by as many people as possible as fodder for awareness and dialogue.

The six-member cast is quite wonderful.

Susan Johnson as Sister Gabriel is great as the oh-too-human nun constantly questioning the rules in a humorous and lovable way. She talks it up in an environment that stresses silence and obedience as she searches for tenderness, love and the need “to just hold a hand.”

Patty Garrett as the stern and ambitious but internally conflicted Sister Agnes is equally strong as the defender of the church.

Destiny MacWatters as young Mary and Jenn Gretzinger as Sister Mary also capably and admirably reveal the story of a young spiritual woman transforming into the unlikeliest of rebels who ends up facing a charge that would have been unthinkable so many years before.

Gavin Opp, as the idealistic but cynical Jewish lawyer Joel Stein from New York, is also a delight interacting with Sister Mary in a quest for justice that takes many turns and twists as he delivers many of the funniest but thought-provoking lines in the play.

And Gus Hansen as Louis, the teenage suitor who loses out to the church, brings an energy and frustration to the role that is very well done.

Bravo to all involved, including director Debra Bob, and to Powerhouse as a group that thought this play should be produced for a local audience to both appreciate and reflect upon.

Go see it and reward their efforts, you won’t be disappointed.

Powerhouse Theatre presents Sisters today at 2 p.m., May 2-6 at 7:30 p.m., and May 6 at 2 p.m. To purchase tickets, call the Ticket Seller at 250-549-7469 or visit www.ticketseller.ca.