Part One of Geography of Fire, a new play about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, is getting its first-ever presentation at the Sudbury Theatre Centre on May 18 at 2 p.m.
Written and produced by two-time Governor General Award-winning playwright Colleen Murphy, the play dramatizes four months leading up to Sept. 13, 1759 — the pivotal battle that changed the course of North American and Canadian history.
“This is the beginning of the journey of this play, so what we’re offering on May 18 is a full concert presentation of part one,” Murphy said when speaking to The Star.
“In my view, history is a living thing, and history is an evolving thing. The facts don’t change, but how we interpret it often does.
“All of these characters, it’s 2019, all of these characters come out of their graves, out of the earth, to reenact this situation again. It takes place over the course of four months, the four months leading up to the battle.”
The play features 19 actors, most of them from Sudbury, and 12 life-size papier-mache animals created by Copper Cliff artist Suzanne McCrae.
“As a playwright, I’m not a historian and I’m not that interested in docudrama, I’m interested in drama and the collision of characters,” Murphy said. “And in this play, there’s a lot of fictional characters as well as non-fictional characters.”
Murphy added the life-sized papier-mache animals are witnesses to history.
“We’re going to find all of that works together, and present it,” Murphy said.
The play explores the collision and intersection of cultures, nations and animals during the Battle on the Plains of Abraham.
“All the dead are equal,” Murphy said. “When you’re dead you’re equal. There’s a level of equality in which to play and to have these characters re-enact their fate, as it were. And I also believe history is a living thing, not only in terms of how it’s interpreted, but how it often fades from our memories, then comes back again.”
According to its website, geographyoffire.ca, in 2019, summoned by the call of a red-throated loon, the characters come out of the earth with bits of clothing from 1759 still clinging to their burial shrouds. For the next few hours, they re-enact their memories in an effort to both recapture and challenge history’s interpretation of this tumultuous time.
On Sept. 13, 1759, world history changed in 20 minutes. Often portrayed in English Canada as nothing more than a dust-up between two generals fighting for their respective kings, the battle is so much more – a magnificent, tragic resistance against the land-grabbing corporate idea of empire that goes beyond one’s own experience or affiliation.
The play features 33 historical and fictional characters and 12 animals and birds. All the characters and creatures occupy the same strip of emotional geography – a bit of woods on a field overlooking the St. Lawrence.
Scenes dramatize perspectives from the water (red-throated loon), the land (pig, cow, horse, moose, deer, red fox, rooster), the air (owl, seagull), and from Wolfe’s dog and Montcalm’s cat.
The creatures – life-sized paper mache creations — witness a multiplicity of human stories involving French Canadians, Huron-Wendats, French aristocrats, Canadian militia, British soldiers, enterprising women, priests, over-worked nuns, bakers and young lovers.
“The other special thing about this production, is I hope to continue to build in Sudbury,” Murphy said. “Sudbury is like the perfect place for this play. It’s a fantastic bilingual community, it’s a very team community in terms of the arts, and it’s a growing community in terms of the arts.”
Tickets cost $20 each. Visit sudburytheatre.com for more information.