In a community that breeds more than just curiosity, the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (FLDS) sets the scene in Joan MacLeod’s timely play, Gracie, at the Great Canadian Theatre Company.
We first meet Gracie, the feisty eight-year-old, as she’s squished in the middle seat of a minivan. She and her three older siblings are being trafficked across the Canadian border into Bountiful, B.C. where her mother will become an 18th wife. Gracie (Erica Anderson) is our story teller for the evening, her youthful innocence makes it nearly impossible to keep anything a secret from the audience.
As the private details of the inner workings of a modern day sect are described from the point of view of a wide-eyed child, an air of weary protectiveness begins to build in the theatre. The audience sets their watchful gaze on this one-woman power house as her characters demeanour matures and her Colorado accent is slowly forgotten over the five year span we grow to know her.
Ottawa’s own Anderson takes the GCTC stage for the first time in her career and does a fearless job in this 90-minute solo performance. Despite a few hiccups with lines, her performance was delivered with complete conviction. Not only was she tasked with developing Gracie as a character, but Anderson impressively and fluidly took on some of the supporting roles of her mother, sister, brother and sect leader, Mr. Shelby. Each additional character was introduced with a slightly different presence before she instinctually reverted back to Gracie.
MacLeod’s play offers only a snippet of insight, as told from the perspective of a young girl, into an otherwise hush-hush polygamous community. What it does help explain is the ‘why’, which I think I was most curious about. Why does one man have the desire to father (or foster) over a hundred children?
The answer: the more children a man has fathered, the more highly regarded he will be in heaven. I’m still struggling to wrap my head around whether this raises more questions than it answers.
The ideologies pushed onto these children at such a young age is haunting. The girls are conditioned to believe that being a “good girl” is synonymous with blind faith and bearing children. The boys are exploited for cheap labour and made to feel worthless when no woman is assigned to them.
Parrels from MacLeod’s play can certainly be drawn back to a the recent conviction of Winston Blackmore from Bountiful, B.C. Blackmore was found guilty of having 24 wives and 148 children. In a statement that I found shocking, Bountiful is known as Canada’s polygamy capital. Having visited sect communities in both Colorado and Bountiful, the play reflects much of her first-hand experience.
Like in MacLeod’s popular production, The Shape of a Girl, based on Reena Virk’s murder in 1997, she puts women at the centre of it all and refuses to shy away from the sensitive bits.
Directed by GCTC’s very own artistic director Eric Coates, the stage is used to its full potential. Anderson hops, jumps, runs and climbs her way from one end of the stage to the other on a series of elaborate and serene wooden platforms.
Finding oneself in the only life they’ve ever known, Gracie is not only a journey of a 15 year old girl questioning her place in her community and in her faith but of how each different character either accepts the role they’re given or fights their way to redemption. If your curiosity is piqued as mine was, I definitely recommend seeing the play.
Gracie is running at the Great Canadian Theatre Company until May 13, 2018. Tickets are available online.