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|A CurtainUp Review
Quiet In The Land
By Rob Ormsby
Anne Chislett's Quiet in the Land, considered a classic of the modern Canadian repertoire, proves worthy of revival. The work dramatizes the challenges faced by an Amish community in Southern Ontario near the end of the First World War. The principal conflict is between Yock Bauman (Michael Therriault), a strong-headed adolescent who abandons the insular religious life to fight in France, and his father Christy (Stephen Russell), a fiercely traditional man, whose own willful desires lead to his election as Bishop, but also occasion his estrangement from his son.
A greater threat to the cohesion of the community lies in the questions that Yock's friend, Menno (Jason Mitchell) puts to the Amish elders about doctrine, and what he sees as the worldliness of their faith. It is Menno who marries Katie Brubacher (Lara Jean Chorostecki), the woman Yock loves, and embraces the modern world in the form of mechanized agriculture, and splits apart the congregation with his evangelical convictions.
Such archetypal battles between parent and child, conformity and individuality, and orthodoxy and heterodoxy, could easily be played as a tired, facile retread, but some tremendous acting prevents this from happening. Chislett's play is, at bottom, a character-driven vehicle, and, fortunately, the Tom Patterson Theatre's thrust stage, with the audience wrapped around it on three sides, encourages the intimate presentation of the psychologically intense relationships which bubble up through the visual uniformity of the Amish costuming.
The production brings to life the sustaining network of these relationships in the fine work director Andrey Tarasiuk gets from his cast in minor roles, including Chorostecki's sympathetic Katie, and Brigit Wilson as Katie's bustling, talkative mother Lydie, both of whom help make Katie's father Zepp (Robert King) the most humane figure in the piece. Zepp's appeal is all the stronger for his touching friendship with Christy; though the Bishop is unbending and authoritative in the face of rebellion from Menno, King expertly negotiates the line that Zepp must walk between his inherent flexibility towards the reform-minded youth and the loyalty he feels for his friend.
More compelling still is the way that Christy's mother Hannah (Joyce Campaign) relates to her son and grandson. This wise and stern, but ultimately loving woman, who serves as a surrogate for Yock's mother (she died in childbirth), tries in vain to heal the rift between father and son. Although she fails, the tenderness Russell and Therriault lend their characters' feelings for Hannah softens the harsh stubbornness of the two men. Still, the men's stubbornness persists, and, more than Menno's revolt, it holds our attention. This focus is underscored in Tarasiuk's deft simultaneous staging of scenes from the Bauman and Brubacher households: with the help of subtle lighting (Ereca Hassell), he establishes the contrast between the powerful contest of wills in the former, and the forgiving acquiescence to human foibles in the latter.
The Amish, and what they represent, played an important role in North American history. The emphasis of both Chislett's drama and this production make it an important, and highly relevant piece of 20th century theatre.
For links to other Stratford Festival reviews see our Stratford Festival Page
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