Review: The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum

So, yesterday I went to see a production of “The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum” at the National Arts Centre. I went to see almost the last production of its run there, and so this review won’t help anyone deciding if they might want to go see it. But it will let me outline some deeper examinations of works like it just like I do for TV shows and books. I’m not going to talk too much about the specifics, and so will try to avoid any spoilers. The sad thing is that I probably won’t need them.

Despite the name, the museum itself is just a vague frame around the play, supposedly setting things up for us to accept the narrator, Margaret MacNeil. As such, the play is essentially about the life of this woman, and its myriad joys and far more commen trials and tragedies. To that end, the actress playing her has to carry the load of the play, and Francine Deschepper does a credible job. She’s a strong enough actress to catch and keep my attention, but isn’t quite strong enough to compel it. And that’s not a problem if the surrounding cast of characters is strong enough, because it allows me to drift my attention from the lead to them and then back again when required. Unfortunately, while the actors handle their roles credibly enough the characters they play aren’t developed enough to carry that sort of load. We really only see things through Margaret’s eyes, and to be honest her character is a bit shallow and uninteresting. What’s most interesting about her are the things that happen around her and to her, but that effect is muted by the fact that most of that comes from other people — her brother, her mother, her husband-to-be — and they get limited time and development for us to really care about them.

A strong plot or strong comedy could carry us through this … except that, for the most part, everything the play does is precisely what you’d expect for a play of this sort. There are a lot of attempts at comedy in the play, and I found myself chuckling at a couple of them, but for the most part I could see them coming a mile away, and the same thing can be said of the plot. And when I couldn’t see it coming, it seemed to be rather, well, dumb. I only didn’t see it coming because I couldn’t think of anyone actually trying to do that, and so most of the time those ones fell flat. For the most part, then, this is a standard “woman living in troubled times” story, right down to the tragedies and triumphs.

Now, there’s nothing really wrong with that. You can do the same sort of stories that everyone has done and have it be entertaining, or meaningful. But in general when you do this you do something different to make it standout. Usually, that involves the characters; you end up seeing the same story through the eyes of different people than you’d normally see it, and so it’s interesting. But this play strikes me as not really establishing the characters to that level, because it focuses too much on Margaret and her life and not much on the life of the others outside of her house except when it relates to her and her tragedies. As such, I’m having the same reaction to it that I had to “The Stone Angel”, which is mostly not caring about her life. Now, I did find the play more interesting than “The Stone Angel”, but for the most part I think it relies too much on you being able to immediately understand and accept the background of the play of life in the mines in that sort of community. If you can relate to Margaret and her family, you’ll likely like the characters immediately and enjoy watching their lives, perhaps even with a sense of nostalgia if you’ve been in that sort of area or situation. If you can’t, then the play doesn’t really give you any reason to develop that, and you’ll find yourself not really all that interested in their lives, and mostly feeling like you’re watching this because it’s mildly entertaining and it’ll kill some time until your next event.

If I had attended this play mostly just to see the play as opposed to as an excuse to go downtown for the day, I’d have felt that it wasn’t worth my time and money. As it was, it was entertaining enough that I don’t regret seeing it but basically have to react to it with a resounding and heartfelt “Meh”.

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