The Great Shadow

When Hollywood came to Trenton

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

I love a true story, especially in the theatre. It’s even better when that true story happened 100 years ago, and you can see history come alive. That’s what the 4th Line Theatre, south of Millbrook has done with The Great Shadow, now running until July 23.

The other neat thing about 4th Line Theatre is that it all takes place outdoors. The performances take place on a platform in front of a barn that serves as the backstage area. The audience is seated on bleachers, where the main section is covered by a roof. On their busy opening night, following their gala, two other bleachers were in use, but unfortunately don’t have roofs to protect from the bright setting sun. The show commences at 6:00 p.m., ensuring daylight for the entire performance.

This is the true story of George Brownridge, an ambitious young man, who in the silent film era, wanted to see feature films made in the small town on Trenton, Ontario. In his mind, Trenton is Hollywood North. A movie studio had been built in Trenton in 1917 but apparently had only been used by a government agency to create educational short films. A chuckle goes through the audience when it was explained that a film about how to use tooth powder to clean your teeth is very popular. And yes, even though there were no feature-length films being made, a government censor board was in place.

Brownridge has a script and big ideas so he seeks out inventors, but never has enough money to do what he really wants. He hires the great actor Tyrone Power Sr. and silent film star Edna Mayo to come from Hollywood to star in The Great Shadow. Unfortunately, when it comes time to release the film, Adolf Zukor, head of Famous Players and Paramount in California, didn’t want any competition from Trenton. He buys up all the movie theatres showing silent films in Canada, so that The Great Shadow wouldn’t be shown across the country.

In Russia, the Bolshevik revolution is underway and we see the rise of communism in the Soviet Union. This, in turn, casts a shadow over Canadian and US politics.

The play also features a sweet, brief love story between a seamstress, who was widowed when her husband died in World War I, and Tyrone Power Sr. Her two daughters are thrilled, but later she learns he’s engaged – typical Hollywood cad! So yes, there is something for everyone in this story.

I won’t pass judgement on the actors, because some are unpaid volunteers. If they are taking part because they love it, they shouldn’t be critiqued. Fortunately, there are enough experienced actors involved, with some listed as being there with permission from Equity (the actors’ union). There are a few standouts. Colin A. Doyle offers a clear picture of George Brownridge’s great ambition and passion. Matt Gilbert is an excellent Mayor William Ireland, at first refusing to help Brownridge, but then being won over by his brush with fame. Salvatore Scozzari is delightful in his portrayal of the evil Adolph Zukor. Robert Morrison supplies comedic moments as Wilbur, who’s not the brightest light in Trenton. Stealing the show is 11-year-old Indigo Chesser, as Sunny Donegal, the star-struck child who wants her mother to marry Tyrone Power.

One concern is that none of the actors wear mics and the sound is not amplified. If they turn their backs on the audience, some can’t be heard. Others made the common mistake of beginning actors – they shouted. It’s a little disconcerting to see characters shouting during the entire show.

Another concern is with the script, in the side story where Tyrone Power asks out the seamstress Mrs. Donegal. It doesn’t add to the story to have the ghost of her dead husband lurking about. In fact, it is disturbing. It would have been just as effective to have the widow speaking to him, without seeing him.

An impressive prop is the antique car, which brings the American visitors into Trenton. It adds to the show to have such a beautiful, well-polished antique auto in good running condition. (Many such antique cars are in use for Murdoch Mysteries being shot in Port Hope this week, so it is fortunate that 4th Line Theatre has one on hand.)

The 4th Line Theatre is celebrating its 30th season; it certainly isn’t new to the area. However, if you’ve never been there, it will seem like quite the adventure. You will find this hidden gem tucked away at the Winslow Farm, after you travel down the picturesque and shady Zion Line. And if you’re as fascinated with true Canadian stories as I am, you’ll enjoy this show. But I still don’t know why the theatre isn’t located on the 4th Line.

The Great Shadow continues at the 4th Line Theatre near Millbrook until July 23.  Tickets are available by calling (705) 932-4445 or (800) 814-0055 or visit

Photo: Matt Gilbert as Mayor William Ireland and Sarah McNeilly as Edna Mayo in The Great Shadow. Photo by Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio

The Great Shadow
By Alex Poch-Goldin
Directed by Cynthia Ashperger
Musical Direction and original compositions by Justin Hiscox
Performed by Freyja Adams, Jalen Brink, Indigo Chesser, Peter Dolinski, Colin A. Doyle, Michael Field, Thomas Fournier, Sochi Fried, Matt Gilbert, Justin Hiscox, Mark Hiscox, M. John Kennedy, Caoimhe MacQuarrie, Deirbhile MacQuarrie, Riordan MacQuarrie, Saoirse MacQuarrie, Siobhan MacQuarrie, Sarah McNeilly, Emma Meinhardt, Robert Morrison, Kelsey Powell, Julie Scaringi, Salvatore Scozzari, Madison Sheward, Shelley Simester. 
4th Line Theatre, Winslow Farm, 779 Zion Line, Millbrook
June 28 to July 23, 2022
Reviewed by Mary Alderson


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