Two small tombstones stand in front of a dark stage. A narrator’s soothing voice says “In the pre-dawn silence, mist grew like grass along the river, silver, soft, silent.” Then a black-garbed, bearded figure stomps up the centre aisle, lugging a large black coffin on his back.
Thus old Hell Fire, an itinerant preacher played by Dany Lachance, made his dramatic entrance on stage at the Sawyerville Community Centre on Saturday, February 23. The occasion was two performances of Pilgarlic, a play by Janice LaDuke based on selections from a novel, Pilgarlic the Death, by Bernard Epps.
Epps is better known for his historical stories about the English- or Gaelic-speaking communities in the Haut-Saint-François, such as the book about Donald Morrison, The Outlaw of Megantic. Although clearly fiction, the Pilgarlic story is also based in our region, in a fictional town called «Stormaway.»
The story is indeed stormy, sketching a somewhat seamy scene of rural life around 1961. With humour and goodnatured caricature, villagers are portrayed in their work and relationships, living lustily and confronting the heartaches of life and the inevitability of death. Through it all shines a love of our magnificent neck of the woods.
The main character is the village teacher, Dougal the School, played by Mead Baldwin, who drowns his marital sorrows in alcohol, ruminates on life and death, and roams his beloved hills. The shadow of death is ever-present, especially when it arrives for the rascally Old Hugh, played by John Mackley, a character whose exploits are the topic of village talk.
The audience filled the hall for both performances, and also filled it with the sound of appreciation for the director and narrator, Janice LaDuke, and her cast of 18. Other actors were Don Atkinson, Caleb Campagna, Alex Dougherty, David Gillies, Marlene Lowry, Craig McBurney, Kaely Morrison, Kiana Morrison, Denis Palmer, Vanessa Salvatore, Tami Spires, and Scott Stevenson. They received a standing ovation for the final performance.
Janis Graham played the keyboard between scenes and the two acts. Steve Coates masterminded the sound and lighting, to great effect. Linda Hoy and Elaine Lebourveau managed the tickets and publicity.
The community hall’s stage is small, but the vision was large for the set designers, Denis Palmer and Royce Rand. They built a complete Main Street, with a ballroom, gas station, grocery store, bar and hotel, where Old Hugh sat and rocked. Not to mention a church transformed into a family’s residence.
The play was a fundraiser for the Eaton Corner Museum, the fifth such annual event.
«I thought it went very well, especially because it was something different, because it was totally fiction,» said Sharon Moore, vice-president of the Eaton Corner Museum. «I thoroughly enjoyed the play and I heard lots of very positive comments. I think Janice LaDuke did a wonderful job with it. I could hear Bernie’s in the words. And I am so grateful to the volunteers who gave so generously of their time and talents.»