The Donnellys: A Trilogy – Part One: Sticks and Stones

The Clash of Catholic Immigrants and Local Protestants

Reviewed by Deb Lord

In the 1840s, James and Johanna Donnelly arrive in Lucan with their infant son.  Having fled the famine, factionalism and violence of old Ireland, they immediately set about clearing land to farm and raising a family. But the promises of landlords and land agents prove false, and as their family grows, their prospects only shrink. Shadows of the past find fresh corners in the present to haunt them. An infamous logging bee, a murder charge, some gallows at the Goderich court, and a plea for mercy may all change their circumstances, but not their fates.

The Donnellys  is a very interesting trilogy to enjoy this summer at the Blyth Festival on the outdoor Harvest Stage. Not only does the ambience of the outdoor stage add to the suspense and feel of this play, the multi-talented group of actors keeps you on the edge of your comfortable seat.

James and Johannah Donnelly immigrated to a new country in 1842 to make a fresh start. They had seven sons and one daughter. Sticks and Stones deals with James and Johanna’s early struggles in their new country, a country which wasto be a fresh start, free from stress. With constant abuse and violence from locals, the couple and their family suffer destructive obstacles.

James Donnelly (Randy Hughson) is a strong individual who stands up for his family’s rights, but Johannah Donnelly (Rachel Jones) is the main character to be admired. The love and devotion to her husband and family shines brightly throughout the play. Johannah never ceases to protect her family from bullying and violence and even treks on foot to Goderich to have her husband’s death sentence commuted. Jones’ interaction with the crowd made the play more life-like!

All three parts will be performed by one single company of ten actors including Hughson and Jones. The eight other actors are Geoffrey Armour, Masae Day, Paul Dunn, Cameron Laurie, Steven McCarthy, Hallie Seline, James Dallas Smith and Mark Uhre.

These eight actors were exceptional. Their performances of frightening characters to comedic personalities added to the play’s suspense and laughter. Sometimes you loved them and sometimes you could see the hatred of the Donnellys in their eyes!

Sticks and Stones continues until September 1 at the Harvest Stage, 377 Gypsy Lane, Blyth, Ontario. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at 1-877-862-5984 or by visiting


The Harvest Stage is a permanent open-air, fully accessible amphitheatre, with a thrust stage and audience on three sides. It’s an intimate venue, with open skies above.

The Donnellys: A Trilogy opened on June 24 with the premiere of Sticks and Stones followed by St. Nicholas Hotel Sat., July 13 and Handcuffs on Tues., Aug. 1. There will then be opportunities to see all three shows on consecutive nights several times through August as, after Handcuffs premiers, the shows will begin running in three-day clusters on Tuesday through Thursday and again on Friday through Sunday until Sept. 3.

Artistic Director Gil Garratt has adapted these three plays for the unique open-air setting of the Harvest Stage. This will be the first time in decades that all three of these touchstone plays have been performed in repertory with each other, affording audiences the chance to take in the whole cycle over three nights.

Photo: Left to right: Hallie Seline, Masae Day, Paul Dunn, Mark Uhre, Geoffrey Armour, Cameron Laurie, Randy Hughson, Steven McCarthy, James Dallas Smith. Photo by Terry Manzo.

Sticks and Stones
Written by James Reaney
Directed by Gil Garratt
Performed by Geoffrey Armour, Masae Day, Paul Dunn, Randy Hughson, Rachel Jones, Cameron Laurie, Steven McCarthy, Hallie Seline, James Dallas Smith, Mark Uhre
Harvest Stage, Blyth Festival, Blyth
June 22 to September 1, 2023
Reviewed by Deb Lord


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