Ken Schwartz’s brilliant twist on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in The Stranger By Fire is a spooky and powerful tale of trauma at the individual and community level.
Told around a blazing camp fire in the woods and peppered with humour, the hour and 20 minute show is riveting in plot and performance, in particular Burgandy Code’s amazing transformation from the sophisticated, convivial Dr. Bishop to the misshapen and menacing Edward Crane.
Code shape shifts in front of the audience using her body and voice alone. The pent-up closed body of Crane, his sputtering, choked voice, his pain and passion, are terrifying and unforgettable. It’s remarkable.
Inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s popular 1886 gothic novella, Schwartz makes a key change in rooting the creation and character of Crane in PTSD and in a mistake made long ago by another town character.
He creates a portrait of a lively and loving village– Apple Tree Landing – torn apart by a stranger and violent crime.
Ryan Rogerson, playing the lawyer and narrator David Utterson, defines the good in the community as an affable sort who loves his town and chats to everyone in it. The opening portrait of a Saturday morning on Main Street is rich and humourous.
Utterson is best friends with Dr. Bishop and believes to the utmost in the rules of civil behaviour. He enlists the help of journalist Eleanor Blenkhorn, in a wonderful portrayal – as always – by Micha Cromwell, to get to the bottom of Edward Crane. But the truth challenges them both.
Schwartz has drawn a lovely community portrait of comical and officious characters – Jeff Schwager’s comic policeman being a highlight.
While the themes are primal, ancient and universal, the story also connects very much to Nova Scotia. In watching a town traumatized by violence and an unknown, misunderstood monster, it’s hard not to think of the mass murders in Nova Scotia in 2020
The Ross Creek Centre for the Arts, home to Two Planks and a Passion Theatre, is near Canning. Captain Harold Borden’s childhood home enshrouded in trees is still one of Canning’s architectural jewels. He died at the age of 24 in 1900 in the Boer War and is memorialized in an amazing statue at the town’s main interscetion.
Schwartz sets the play in 1907 with amusing references to Wolfville and Kentville. Jennifer Goodman’s Edwardian costumes in a muted palette clearly speak of well-mannered and well-to-do people. Musical direction by Allen Cole includes suitably eerie sounds made by cast members on an instrument created by Brian Riley.
Ken Schwartz directs a great ensemble cast including Henricus Gielis, Kiana Josette, Allison Moira Kelly, Chris O’Neill and Riel Reddick Stevens. It is always impressive how the actors stay within character and within the story as they also lay wood on the fire.
The Stranger runs through Sept. 3 at 9.30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The 6 p.m. show Unity (1918) is also a portrait of a community torn apart by fear and illness as an aspiring, lively young writer played by Micha Cromwell falls for a Halifax soldier, who is a stranger in her town. It runs tonight, 6 p.m., as well as Friday and Saturday.
The two shows together are thought-provoking, realistic and chilling examinations of society, friendship and people under stress. Both plays go to the heart of what people can do to one another in bad times.