The Donnellys: A Trilogy – Part Three: Handcuffs

The Donnellys Die by the Light of the Moon

Reviewed by Deb Lord

Unbeknownst to the Donnelly family, some of their neighbours have begun meeting after dark to form a Vigilance Committee, with the blessing of their new parish priest, Father Connolly. As factions form, the Donnelly family find themselves at the centre of accusations, rumour, and curses.

After a five-minute rain delay, we were very fortunate to see this intense performance on the Blyth Festival’s Harvest Stage. Director Gil Garrett and his team splendidly use the stage to make the audience feel the hatred in the community. Handcuffs is the third play in the trilogy.

On the fateful night of February 4th, 1880, a mob descends on the Donnelly homestead. By morning, the only living witness to one of the most notorious crimes in Canadian history is an innocent ten-year-old boy. When the court convenes, and the testimony is heard, how will the jury find? The dramatic conclusion to the Donnelly saga is full of fury, fire, and fiddle music.

“It all starts here tonight!
Donnelly gang won’t you come out tonight, come out tonight.
And die by the light of the moon.”

After watching Part One: Sticks and Stones and Part Two: St. Nicholas Hotel, theatre goers realize the end is near for the Donnelly Family.

Handcuffs demonstrates the power of the Catholic church. One priest is removed from the area because he is too fair-minded and actually defends the Donnellys. He is replaced by Father Connolly (Paul Dunn), a smug, selfish and egotistical man who puts himself above the law. Father Connelly says “There are not two sides to a story, there is only one! There shall be a corpse inside a month!”

The Lucan/Biddulph community secretly forms a ‘peace’ society. Anyone who does not sign it, will be with the Donnellys. This ‘peace’ society decides it is time to take the law into their own hands and rid the area of the Donnelly family.

One day, James Donnelly complains to a local magistrate, “We are blamed for everything.” The next day he is dead.

Despite a great deal of evidence (including an eyewitness), no one is been found guilty of the crime. Many had no doubt “who done it”, but in two trials the jury does not deliver a guilty verdict.

The dramatic ending makes the audience imagine what is actually happening. The creation of flames combined with the smell of smoke is so lifelike. You can feel the fear, hatred and devastation happening on the stage.

Handcuffs continues until September 3 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 22 with Sticks and Stones followed by St. Nicholas Hotel, July 13 and Handcuffs on Aug. 1. There are opportunities to see all three shows on consecutive nights, 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: Randy Hughson, Cameron Laurie, Masae Day, Geoffrey Armour, Hallie Seline,  Paul Dunn, Mark Uhre, Steven McCarthy, and James Dallas Smith. Photo by Terry Manzo.

Part Three: Handcuffs
Written by James Reaney
Adapted and directed by Gil Garratt
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
August 1 to September 3, 2023
Reviewed by Deb Lord



Sign up here if you would like to receive notice when news, reviews, and musings are posted. You can unsubscribe at any time.