The Value of Literature
So what’s the best way to make a book more popular? Try to ban it. Margaret Laurence became my favourite author, right after I heard they were trying to ban The Diviners. In marathon reading sessions, I devoured The Diviners and went on to read the rest of her wonderful books.
If Truth Be Told, on stage at the Blyth Festival, is the thinly veiled story of the attempt to ban Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women by the school board in Huron County. The Diviners was on the same list.
But in this play by Beverley Cooper, the author is Peg Dunlop, returning to her home town to look after her aging mother. She is angry and bitter, coming from a failed marriage in Vancouver. She doesn’t want small town life, where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Maysie and her daughter Jennifer having been housekeeping for her elderly mother, and Maysie gets upset with the profanity and sexual content in Peg’s book that Jennifer has been assigned to read in school. She goes to Harry Briggs, the school board trustee, with her concerns and soon a petition is circulated to ban Peg’s book along with The Diviners, Of Mice and Men and Catcher in the Rye. Teacher Carmella tries to entreat Peg in fighting the book ban.
While the play has an intriguing sub-plot dealing with Maysie and Jennifer’s family life, the story centres on the damage done by sides forming in the book banning. Who’s right and who’s wrong? Interestingly no clear stance is taken by the playwright.
Anita LaSelva as the school teacher gives a riveting performance as she defends the books. She is excellent in her portrayal of the outsider who eventually admits that she wants to belong. J. D. Nicholsen as Harry, the school board trustee who is also an elder at the church, portrays a well-rounded character. He could have easily set himself up as the villain, but instead shows his concern for the students. Rebecca Auerbach as Maysie and Meghan Chalmers as Jennifer are both excellent in their mother/daughter relationship and in their way of handling the rather angry Peg. Catherine Fitch plays a very stoic Peg but lets us catch a bit of her feelings on occasion.
This is fascinating play, based on a very real event in the 1970s. Credit goes to playwright Beverley Cooper for showing both arguments and not forcing the audience to take sides. While most will agree that banning a book is not the right route, the question of the students’ readiness to handle the material is raised. Even though many will remember the outcome, the play maintains its gripping hold on the audience until the end, even offering some surprise twists. It’s an excellent production that sends us home to think over the issue and the consequences of decisions made. This play is another production in Blyth’s repertoire that should attract solid audiences this summer: A well-written script combined with talented actors,
and solid direction from Blyth favourite Miles Potter.
If Truth be Told continues at the Blyth Festival in repertoire until September 3. Call 519-523-9300 / 1-877-862-5984 or go to www.blythfestival.com for tickets.
Photo: Anita La Selva as Carmella Thorpe and Catherine Fitch as Peg Dunlop. Photo by Terry Manzo.
If Truth Be Told
By Beverley Cooper
Directed by Miles Potter
Performed by Rebecca Auerbach, Meghan Chalmers, Catherine Fitch, Anita La Selva, J. D. Nicholsen.
Blyth Festival, Blyth
July 27 to September 3, 2016
Reviewed by Mary Alderson