In what is a case of good or bad timing, depending on which stance you take, a locally written, produced, and acted play is showing the affects of war, right here in Vernon.
With this year marking the 100-year anniversary of the start of the First World War and 60 years since the Normandy landings of D-Day, war has been on the minds of just about everyone who reads the news.
Add the tense situations in the Gaza and the Ukraine, and it’s an especially scary time.
Although the play taking place on the Powerhouse Theatre stage won’t offer much of a reprieve from the horrors of war, it does offer a poignant look at how war affected both those on the home front, as well as those fighting overseas.
Written by local playwright Michael Poirier, and directed by The Hub Art Collective’s Matt Brown, War on the Home Front takes the audience to 1944 and the base commander’s office at the Vernon Army Camp, the military training centre that was used during both the First and Second World Wars. There, Col. Hansen (played by a commanding Bob Chamberlain) barks orders to his secretary Mary Carlton (the lovely Caitlin Krahn) and his reporting officer, Capt. Stewart (a placid Kelly Winston).
Hansen is especially concerned about a private named Nellie Bullock (who is played here by the feisty Bev Steeves), a tough-as-nails woman with a penchant for getting into fights at the beer parlour and dance halls in town.
Based on Poirier’s real-life mom, Bullock works for the military as a truck driver, bringing ammunition from the Kamloops storage bunker to the Vernon camp. After hearing enough about her shenanigans in town, Hansen decides to hire her to work out of Vernon so he can keep a closer eye on her.
Meanwhile, a mechanic on the base, Cpl. Granger (young talent Sheldon Graham) pleads with his commander to send him overseas. Like Nellie, who if she could would suit up as a soldier, he’s ready to fight.
Between these scenes at home, the play travels to a battlefield in Italy where two young privates, Carlton and Swift (brave performances by Spencer Freeman-Marsh and Gavin Opp) are putting their lives on hold.
New to the field is Swift, who attempts to get to know the more hardened Carlton, who is not really that interested in making friends.
The juxtaposition, and tie-ins, between these two scenarios of life at home and abroad works for the audience to get a better perspective on what the war was really like.
Poirier has obviously done his research. Pulling from his own family’s history (his step-father also served in the war as a soldier), and from talking to military personnel, he gets the feel for the times and the situations right.
The only problem is the pacing.
Thrown between the quieter moments at home base and the tension on the battlefield is a tad jarring. Pregnant pauses between the dialogue also didn’t help (but that could have come from opening night jitters.)
What brought me out of occasional ennui on the home front was every time Private Nellie made her presence known, especially when putting up her verbal dukes with Col. Hansen. Sadly, there just weren’t enough scenes with her in them to liven things up.
However, the play does evoke emotion on all sides: there’s laughter, sadness, and frustration when things go wrong. The play also doesn’t take political sides, and is an honest, clear view on how war affected those men and women. In all, a job well done from a group of talented and passionate locals.
There’s still time to catch War on the Home Front. It continues at Powerhouse Theatre tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.
– Kristin Froneman is the arts and entertainment editor at The Morning Star.