THE BUSH-LADIES conceived and directed by Molly Thom, with Mary Ann McDonald, Wendy Springate, Elva Mai Hoover and Meg Hogarth. Presented by Beggarly Productions at Artword (75 Portland). Runs to February 10, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday and Sunday 2:30 pm. $15-$26, Sunday pwyc. 416-366-7723. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
the bush-ladies chronicles a re-markable quartet of women who left their British homes to live -- in one case for only a short while -- in 1830s Upper Canada. Deviser and director Molly Thom has arranged the diaries and other writings of sisters Susanna Moodie (Mary Ann McDonald) and Catharine Parr Traill (Wendy Springate), Anne Langton (Elva Mai Hoover) and established author Anna Jameson (Meg Hogarth) into a tapestry of the hardships and joys of settling in a new land.
But Thom, who has turned the material into dialogue or monologues, hasn't always been able to make it theatrical.
There's a sense, especially in the first half, of being told about events rather than shown them, and the low comedy -- the American squatters who rile Moodie, for instance -- is pretty dull.
There's more strength in the serious segments, played out against Mary Spyrakis's dark-woods backdrop, as the women prove themselves individuals, not simply accommodating to their families, the endless work and a frequently oppositional natural world.
Ultimately, the four emerge as vibrant personalities who, by the end of the show, take pride in their writing (Moody and Jameson), teaching and painting (Langton) and botany (Traill), all of which reflect their Canadian environment.
What's missing in this remount is some of the freshness and spontaneity of the 1999 production. But Hogarth's Jameson radiates dogged determination and a sense of wonder in her journey to the wilds of Sault Ste. Marie, while Springate's Traill is the heart of the production, moving from quiet, shaky hope to contentment with her life in a no-longer-strange new home.JK