If you thought that Theatre By The Bay (TBTB) was telling the stories of just Barrie you’re wrong; they’re telling the stories of every spot that touches Lake Simcoe and doing it well.
Mary of Shanty Bay hit the stage on Wednesday and runs until Sunday, June 10.
Directed by 2018 RBC Emerging Artist Brandon Nicoletti, the story describes the early 1800s life of Mary O’Brien and how she and her husband Edward built what is now Shanty Bay, despite it being a relatively untouched wilderness.
While most may feel like there is nothing in common with the O’Briens and life nowadays you would be pleasantly surprised. The struggle of raising kids, making ends meet and being loyal to family are some themes touched on throughout the play; the main theme that is most relevant in today’s age, however, is an early female-empowerment movement.
It’s no surprise that TBTB veteran Leah Holder was not only able to put together a great play of local interest after stumbling across The Journals of Mary O’Brien, but played the title part with such fervour that you wanted to go out and build a shanty when the lights came up. The fact that TBTB was able to find a local story about a strong, independent woman from 200 years ago at a time when women’s contributions and rights are at the forefront internationally and at home, shows the hard work the production company is putting into what they do.
Stories about farming and taming untouched land may be your thing, in which case you will love Southby Gapper and his will to work hard for his family. But for those with ambition on your mind, you will undoubtedly take to the wealthy merchant Benjamin Thorne; either way both characters are played so brilliantly by Isaiah Thomas Kolundzic that it may take you until the end of the play to figure out it’s the same actor.
One theme that stood out as a bit of shock to think it would be relevant two centuries ago is mental health. You will have to see the play and watch for it, but when it comes up it sticks out in a big way and you’re left realizing that the state of the human mind and what it can handle may be in the news now, but has been an issue for a very long time.
Men beware as actor Cesare Scarpone brings Edward O’Brien alive and the only issue you may have with his fantastic performance is that your wife or girlfriend may ask why you can’t be more like Edward. O’Brien’s characteristics would be heralded in any era, but, thankfully, he was around to help build the community where the play is based.
The play is very easy to follow even with the large gap in generations, but if for some reason you find yourself having to leave for a bathroom break and upon getting back you need to transport yourself mentally back into it, follow the face of actress Siobhan O’Malley. O’Malley plays three characters and regardless of who she is portraying you can see that she is as dedicated to bringing the historical figure to life as the audience is to learning about who they are.
However, of all the stars of the show one is brighter than any of them: the location. Mary of Shanty Bay is performed on the grounds of the church that the O’Briens built and are buried on. It makes for a haunting intermission when you follow the luminary-lit pathway out to the gravesite of the couple.
St. Thomas Anglican Church at 28 Church St. in Shanty Bay will never be looked at the same way again by those who see the play, and with many more stories to be told by TBTB it is likely that no spot that touches the lake will ever be viewed the same again.
For information on Mary of Shanty Bay dates, times and tickets, check out the website.