On The Fringe #7
Written by Denyse Terry
Play: The Whirlwind
Company: Street Opera Productions
Details: Written by: Doug Massey, Directed by: John Addison
Location: Citadel Theatre
Show Times: Fri. July 19, 6:00pm; Sat. July 20, 3:00pm; Sun. July 21, 6:30pm; Wed. July 24, 8:00pm; Thurs. July 25, 10:00pm; Fri. July 26, 8:30pm; Sun. July 28, 10:00pm
If you want to learn about Hamilton’s history, I recommend a sit down with historian Doug Massey.
A Fringe veteran, he played the acclaimed role of Mr. Kane in a trilogy of Hamilton Fringe plays: The Right Turne (2007) The Left Turne (2008) and Turne Around (2009). He also produced Robert Savoie’s play Escape at the Fringe in 2011. Massey admits he caught the Fringe bug. This time around he has another fascinating story to tell – and a unique way to tell it.
His new play, The Whirlwind, is a drama based in history, that shines a new light on some of the controversies surrounding the Battle of Beaver Dams. Working from first-hand accounts in The Journal of Major John Norton, Massey crafts characters that challenge the notion of Indigenous people as warriors. “Social Justice is at the root of everything I do.” says Massey.
The idea for the play came from his extensive work on the film, The Battle of Beaver Dams: An Uncommon Courage. Co-written with Jeremy Major, the docudrama tells the battle story primarily through the eyes of the Grand River people. These Indigenous troops were greatly outnumbered but employed psychological tactics in order to triumph over the Americans during the war of 1812.
Many battles were fought in this area; the Battle of Beaver Dams took place just west of Niagara Falls, in what is now Thorold Township, on June 24, 1813. Advancing American troops, planning to surprise the British at Beaver Dams, made a fateful rest-stop at Queenston Heights, home to Laura Secord. Secord then set off on a 27 km trek to warn the British that the Americans were coming. There has been some controversy over the significance of her trek. Nevertheless, the U.S. troops were ultimately ambushed by Indigenous warriors and surrendered.
Massey says the battle was won as much by words as it was by weapons. When he finished working on the film, “There were still issues left over, issues that people need to know about. The Whirlwind is the final piece of the puzzle.” With a grant from the Hamilton Bicentennial Committee, Street Opera Productions set to work.
Massey wanted to explore themes like courage, wisdom, humility and spirituality. He asks in the play: What it courage? Is it the strongest fighter? Is it the last one standing? Or is it more? Massey loves weaving film and live theatre so expect a segment from the film.
Carla Zabek (Imaginary Invalid, Escape, Suddenly Last Summer) plays Laura Secord, “It was a role I just couldn’t refuse.” Zabek has also done extensive research on her character. Of the controversy over whether or not Secord played a significant role in the outcome of the Battle of Beaver Dams, Zabek says, “She made that trek two days before the battle. So she had to be significant.”
Massey himself plays Colonel Charles Boerstler, who lead the 14th U.S. Infantry at the Battle of Beaver Dams. Boerstler apparently reviled one Dr. Cyrenius Chapin. American Cyrenius Chapin has been called a terrorist by many, but called himself a ‘protector’ of Canadians against British tyranny – so the British didn’t much care for him either. Cyrenius Chapin’s character is played by director John Addison, another community theatre expert, teacher, and past Mayor of Dundas.
Chris Cracknell plays Henry Tekarihogan, second leader of the Mohawk Sachem clan, who agonizes over the First Nations’ involvement in the war. Cracknell’s character, Massey says, is at the heart of the play. He writes, “How he defines courage, and then so acts, has life or death consequences for both himself and his people.”
Cracknell is a well-known actor and musician. He also worked with Massey on Escape, creating the original score for the 2011 play. You may also have caught him in a number of performances at Dundas Little Theatre, most recently in Brian Morton’s, How Could You Mrs. Dick?
Massey is ardent over dispelling the war-like image of Indigenous people. “There is a duality in historical representations of Indigenous peoples. On the one hand they are referred to as savages, and on the other, as medicine men. So yes, a subtext here is trying to destroy stereotypes.” And share some history, uniquely told.
Time to play WTH? Where The Heck in Hamilton is this: Send your guess and your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org **Nancy M. won two tickets to The Whirlwind! Congratulations Nancy! Keep playing WTH? More stories to follow…
On The Fringe is written by Denyse Terry
Denyse is a local freelance writer.
A Fringe volunteer for the past 5 years, she has served as a member of the Board of Directors since 2011.
Her short story ‘Boom’ has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize: