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Photo: Philip Cutler

Fringe Review: Magnificence

By Barbara Popel on June 17, 2019

Magnificence
by Keir Cutler
55min / PG / Solo / Storytelling

Magnificence is Keir Cutler’s bouquet to his beloved, talented mother, who died in 2011. He says, “Memories fade, while stories endure.” So he tells us the story his mother, May Ebbitt Cutler, published in the mid-1960s, “I Once Knew An Indian Woman”—an award-winning memoir now sadly out of print. In 1973, The New York Times said it was “simplicity and goodness… stunningly exemplified.”

As a 5-year old child in 1961, Cutler begged his mother to read him this memoir every night. He knew it so well that, as he said, “you’re never really sure if you’ve heard the story, or lived it.”

The story takes place on Lac Mercier in the village of Mont-Tremblant in the 1930s. Cutler’s mother and her family, including his Irish-born grandmother, summered in a rented cottage in the village. They were friends with a Mohawk woman who lived with her children nearby. Her name was Madame Dey. Madame Dey was an imposing, supremely capable woman. She supported her family by doing vast amounts of laundry with great precision for the wealthy cottagers, as well as being the local midwife and unofficial nurse.

Mrs. Cutler’s story details an act Mrs. Dey performed during a crisis, when the rest of the village stood aside, not wanted to get involved. You might say they were afflicted with moral cowardice. Mrs. Cutler calls Madame Dey’s act “magnificence,” meaning doing something great for a noble purpose. As it was.

As the 5-year old Cutler absorbed the story of Madame Dey, childish terrors he had been afflicted with receded. He absorbed his mother’s belief that people were kind and generous, like Madame Dey. He internalized his mother’s favourite quote from Alan Ginsberg’s seminal poem, Howl: “We are golden sunflowers inside”.

“Memories fade, whereas stories endure.” Indeed!


Magnificence by Keir Cutler is playing at Arts Court Library (2 Daly Ave) until Sunday June 23, 2019. Tickets cost $12 online (plus a $2 processing fee) and at the door. Visit ottawafringe.com for the schedule and box office info. Read more reviews at apt613.ca/fringe.