By Diva Heather Boa
BLYTH – If Truth Be Told, a most important play about censorship of literature in Ontario high school curriculum during the ‘70s and ‘80s, found a balance in exploring the issue and examining the impact on community when it premiered on the Blyth Festival stage this past Friday night.
The play, written by Beverley Cooper, is about successful Canadian writer Peg Dunlop’s (Catherine Fitch) return to her home community to care for her sick mother while trying to work on her next book. She doesn’t want to be distracted from writing but gives in to the relentlessly enthusiastic Argentinian high school English teacher Carmella (Anita LaSelva), and agrees to speak to a classroom of students because they are reading one of her books in their class. The housekeeper Maysie Piggott’s (Rebecca Auerbach) complains about the book’s content to church elder and school trustee Harry Briggs (J.D. Nicholsen), who sets the wheels in motion to have the book removed from the curriculum and others reviewed at the same time. Meanwhile, Maysie’s daughter, Jennifer (Meghan Chalmers) reads one of the controversial books and raises a slew of other questions, as only a teenager can.
Then there’s the second layer: what happens when community of people with near daily interactions and dependencies become divided by debate? For any of us who live in smalltown Ontario, this is a very relevant question.
The way in which director Miles Potter presents this story is quintessential Blyth Festival: take a relevant rural story with broad appeal, add a strong cast that mixes veteran actors and newcomers, and put it on a stage stripped of almost anything else that distracts, subtracts or takes away.
Unfortunately, he should have stuck to the format and resisted the visuals like cursive writing plays or candid clips of video that played on the back wall.
The set, by Steve Lucas, is understated, with just a dining room table and chairs upholstered in red velvet, and a cleverly designed staircase that ends somewhere to the side of the stage where the audience can’t see but believes leads to the sickly mother’s bedroom.
If Truth Be Told plays in repertoire at the Blyth Festival until Sept. 3. Tickets (Adults: $31 regular, $35 preferred; youth: $15. All orders subject to $6 handling charge) are available by calling the box office at 519-523-9300 or toll free at 1-877-862-5984 or online.