'37 written and directed by Bruce Beaton, with Soo Garay, Todd Dulmage, Emily Hurson and Patrick Conner. Presented by Global Spring at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. August 6 and 14 at 5 pm, August 7 at 8 pm, August 8 at 12:30 pm, August 12 at 11 pm, August 13 at 9:30 pm. Rating: NNNNN
There's drama in rebellion, a fact that playwright Bruce Beaton puts to good use in '37, a what-if kind of Canadian history blended with a play-within-a-play. Based on the tensions between the aristocratic Family Compact and the grassroots forces led by William Lyon Mackenzie that finally erupted in the Rebellion of 1837, the script deals with an upper-class woman trying to write a historical melodrama, not realizing that one of her cast is a revolutionary in disguise.
Jumping back and forth between rehearsals - at one point the woman decides to make the play shockingly sexual - and real-life incidents, '37 is Beaton's attempt to "get beyond the velvet ropes of history.
"I've called this a frontier play because it's set in a time when people still have a foot in the Old World and a foot next to the forest wall, where the rules of home don't apply," says the writer, who's been involved in several collaborative theatre pieces and also scripted the earlier SummerWorks shows First World and Spite.
"In other words, they could do and become what they wanted. That, for me, is a rich theatrical conceit."
Some of the scenes are set in the Grange, which at the time was used for various dramatic presentations. Coincidentally, the cast is rehearsing at the AGO, so they can go and look at the actual space where the show takes place.
"But it's not museum theatre," says Beaton. "The play is about the choices people make when they face the world. Here you could pick up a gun and rebel, or accept the world and live in it, or find a different means to create a new world that changes your life."
One of Beaton's underlying themes is the ongoing discussion of whether theatre can affect society, whether seeing a play is about more than two hours of entertainment followed by a few beers.
"Sometimes I think it can change things, sometimes not," he says. "The play offers a debate between artists and revolutionaries, between words and action. The challenge for the artist is to tap into what's going on outside the theatre, helping to galvanize public sentiment.
"There are times when theatre can sweep you up and entrance you. Think of the impact of Nora slamming the door at the end of A Doll's House. Unfortunately, that's a rare example of theatre's power."