Sudbury’s rough and tough history is a gold mine for storytellers. Unfortunately, there are many challenges to get these stories told. Pat the Dog Theatre has been encouraging local playwrights and producing Northern Ontario stories for the last decade.
The theatre group has a tiny budget but a big heart and a huge amount of local talent and support. Last night’s production of the comedy Blind Nickel Pig at the Ukrainian National Federation Hall on Frood Rd. was sold out.
The comedy by former journalist Lara Bradley, who is now a communications specialist, is set in Sudbury in the early 1900s. Two young sisters, Annie and Frannie, support themselves by selling illegal alcohol. When the local newspaper exposes the evils of blind pigs or speakeasies, they are forced to look at other ways to make a living.
The comedy mixes real life characters such as newspaper publisher, William Mason, with composites such as Pickles, the drunk immigrant miner. The story is narrated by Mabel Lynn (Miriam Cusson) and the Piano Man (Daniel Aubin).
Director Matthew Heiti has a sharp eye for details and keeps the pace at a rapid fire. His use of the entire hall space is magical. The venue is not ideal for theatre and underlines the fact Sudbury needs proper stages to develop its talented storytellers and actors.
One of the most endearing things about Blind Nickle Pig is that almost every actor plays more than one character. Four or five actors get a chance to play Pickles throughout the evening. Ron Tough, Greg Tremblay, Cassandra Rene, and France Hout as Annie Flyberry give strong performances. Alec Peroff as the Ukrainian police officer was my favourite, perhaps because his performance is the most understated.
Heiti and set designer Jenny Hazelton created the set and props out of newspapers and cardboard, a metaphor for the local newspaper that keeps the citizens informed, for better or worse. The real William Mason and his newspaper has been described by historians as anti-immigrant and anti-union.
Dan Bedard’s sound design is worth noting because it provides a strong backdrop for the production.
Pat the Dog Theatre should be congratulated for its efforts to bring our stories to the stage. The Play Smelter New Work Theatre Festival continues to May 13.
Theatre reviewer Vicki Gilhula is the associate publisher and editor of the Sudbury Living Magazine Group. An arts lover, she is a longtime board member of the Sudbury Arts Council and a founding member of the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts committee.