DUEL AT DAWN (Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People). Runs to October 16. See listings, page 87, for details. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Guys and guns - the problem we hear about on Toronto streets gives a weird feel to the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People 's season opener, Duel At Dawn . Set in 1817, the piece deals with what's reputed to be the last formal challenge and duel in Toronto, then known as York.
All we really know is that the duel was fought between Samuel Jarvis, whose wealthy family gave their name to the downtown street, and John Ridout, the war-hero son of an equally well-known family.
The rest of the hour-long piece is the conjecture of playwright Glenda MacFarlane , who draws on the various and sometimes conflicting reports of the event.
She concocts several what-if situations, using jealousy, revenge, a lawsuit, honour and quick tempers to fill in the story behind the fatal gunfight. They're all plausible, and MacFarlane adds some dramatic seasoning by making the characters, even the subsidiary ones, rich in motivation and reaction to the events.
What's really exciting about the piece, though, is the staging. Duel At Dawn is an environmental, walkabout show, done in the park next to St. James' Cathedral, using the park's hills, gazebo and the backdrop of the church to frame the action and give it a wonderful period feel. The site, in fact, connects to some of the play's action.
Director Ruth Madoc-Jones moves the action along well, and her cast plays to its young audience without talking down to them. Christopher Sawchyn and Gray Powell are the duellists, whose young male pride and fear of being branded cowards push them to an inevitable confrontation, while Eric Trask plays various older authority figures as well as the narrative's self-serving villain, Ridout's brother George.
Claire Calnan brings different tones to Jarvis's innocent fiancée and Ridout's snippy young sister, while Sean Dixon 's music-making and several characters - especially a man whose father was also in a duel - bring some fine background colour to the main action.
The traffic nearby can be distracting, but the cast holds the audience with a story well told, giving us a bit of Toronto history and folding it into an involving theatrical package.