Walterdale Theatre commemorates the Halifax Explosion with playwright Trina Davis’ Shatter

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PREVIEW
Shatter
Dec. 6 to 16
Walterdale Theatre
10322 – 83 Ave.
Tickets: $15 to $20. Call 780420-1757 or http://www.tixonthesquare.ca

Tonight Canadian news channels will likely commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, a maritime disaster that immediately killed 1,600 people and injured another 9,000. The blast was the largest man-made explosion before the advent of nuclear weapons.

A collision of two ships resulted in a munition ship exploding in Halifax harbour creating a blast that levelled the city and sent shards of glass and burning debris flying for miles. Additionally, the crash’s intense heat vaporized water and created a tsunami. Thousands died, were blinded or crippled and left homeless.

Coincidentally, tonight is also the opening of playwright Trina Davis’ acclaimed Shatter, an exploration of the city’s aftermath. The two-act production runs from Dec. 6 to 16 at Walterdale Theatre.

Shatter is St. Albert actor-playwright Josh Languedoc’s big directing debut and he takes on a heavy project dealing with intense emotions, loss of life and human tragedies.

In 1917 many people initially believed the explosion was the result of a German attack. Although the two ships colliding were Norwegian and French, German survivors were rounded up and imprisoned. Eventually as the real cause became public knowledge and fear evaporated, the imprisoned were released.

“One hundred years ago when the tragedy occurred, people looked for someone to blame. Back then it was the Germans. Today we look at people from the Middle East. There’s that labelling of a group that creates hate, prejudice, racism or ethnocentrism,” said Languedoc.

Davis wrote the play directly after 9/11 and the script focuses on post-traumatic stress, grief, suspicion and prejudice. In Davis’ scenario, war-widow Jenny MacLean (Yanit Terefe) is in shock after losing her son to the blast.

Her German-born best friend Elsie Schultz (Samantha Woolsey), is attacked and jailed. Anna MacLean (Siân Godsmark), Jenny’s daughter falls in love with Brian Davidson (Dylan Brennis), a soldier who detests Germans.

Godsmark, 18, a St. Albert resident and 2017 graduate from Victoria School of the Arts, as Anna journeys through a bumpy character arc.

“When I first read the role, I was frustrated by her and I was really hard on her. I wanted to say to her ‘Wake up.’ But the more I played her, the more I was captivated by her struggles as a person. There’s an invisible innocence to her. She’s just young and wants the best for people she knows,” said Godsmark.

The British-born actress had never heard of the Halifax Explosion prior to Shatter. However, like Languedoc, she cannot help but draw parallels to current political situations.

“The explosion created fear and blame and led to a breakdown in relations where citizens were willing to persecute other people. We’re still living in a similar situation. When fear isn’t treated, it leads to a breakdown in communications and leaves us in a worse place than before. We blame, we victimize whole groups,” Godsmark said.

Of the four main leads, Languedoc sees Jenny’s role as the most difficult.

“Jenny’s arc is so big. She starts as a fiery and passionate woman and by the end is reduced to nothing. Jenny has a strong determination and casting Yanit seems to have paid off.”

Casting Elsie required finding an actress with the right chemistry as a life-long friend and neighbour.

“Sam Woolsley as Elsie is very grounded and motherly. She’s very calm and warm-hearted.”

And finally Dylan Brenneis as the young soldier, comes across as relaxed and level-headed with a commanding presence, said Languedoc.

On Wednesday, Dec. 13, Trina Davis will attend Shatter and deliver a talk-back after the show along with four actors – Terefe, Woolsley, Brittany Heinz and Stuart Old.

 

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Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.