Gore Bay Theatre’s ‘This is How We Got Here’ knocks it out of the park

The cast of ‘This is how we got here’ includes, back row left, Will Smith and John Robertson, front row left, Shannon McMullan and Tara Bernatchez.

GORE BAY—It’s break a leg time for the folks at the Gore Bay Theatre Company as they pack up their set and head off to the annual QUONTA theatre competition in Sault Ste. Marie. The troupe will be performing the Governor General’s Literary Award shortlisted Keith Barker play ‘This is How We Got Here.’ The troupe completed a three show run at the Gore Bay Community Centre theatre this past weekend where they put on a trifecta of tour de force performances in front of appreciative audiences.

The Governor General’s Literary Awards are one of Canada’s oldest and most prestigious prizes and it quickly becomes apparent why Metis playwright Keith Barker’s play was selected as the 2018 winner. ‘This is How We Got Here’ “ looks at the ties that bind a family and the traumas that threaten to tear them apart. The sudden loss of a son affects a close-knit family in different ways and each family member—mother, father, aunt and uncle—must rally together to process the emotional fallout and persevere in the aftermath.” 

Set in Northern Ontario, the play is “Simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming,” according to its Playwrights Canada Press citation.

Under the able hands of veteran co-directors Andrea Emmerton and Walter Maskel, the cast consisted of: John Robertson as Paul, Craig’s father; Tara Bernatchez as Lucille, Craig’s mother; Shannon McMullan, Liset, Craig’s aunt and Lucille’s sister; and Will Smith as Craig’s uncle Jim who is Lisette’s husband and Paul’s best friend.

The emotional power of the subject matter and the chemistry of the interactions between the characters proved riveting, guiding the audience through the dark narrative of the subject matter to find a new dawn where hope shines through the gloom of a darkened forest to light the way forward.

“It is rare to find two men who can open themselves up to parts like these with such intense honesty without losing it,” said Mr. Maskel, following the Saturday night performance. “Both John and Will were able to step up to the edge of that precipice without falling over the edge.”

The exchanges between Mr. Robertson’s Paul and his best friend, Mr. Smith’s Jim, run the gamut from the absurd conundrums springing from being male in the 21st Century to portrayals of an open and raw wound that had been festering deep within their characters in the year since the loss of their son and nephew. So powerful were both of these men’s performances that it is nearly impossible to believe their stage careers have really been quite short. Their performances were a powerful rollercoaster of emotions that climbed to the very summit of magnificent.

Tara Bernatchez and Shannon McMullan are stalwart veterans of the stage and their performances were everything that we have come to expect when they step under the stage lights.

Ms. Bernatchez’s emotionally drained Lucille screamed, howled and writhed in torment without (almost) never raising her voice beyond that needed to reach the back row. As would be apparent to anyone struggling with the loss of a child, Ms. Bernatchez’s performance was rife with rich veins of authenticity that she mined with a deft skill that might have stalled a less capable artist.

Ms. McMullan is a skilled thespian whose performance intertwined so well with that of her fellow cast members that the veil of suspension grew into a tapestry each time she stepped into the light, whether it was during the charged interchanges or her solo monologues, Liset sprang to life in her hands.

The original score produced by Vern Dorge perfectly complemented the production, subtly providing an undertow that dragged the audience out into the deep end of the emotional maelstrom without overshadowing the action onstage. The music was a perfect match.

Set design for a travelling show, which in the QUONTA context this production must be categorized, always presents a challenge, but Mr. Maskel’s design, masterfully executed by Bill Viertelhausen and Mr. Smith, with set painting by Kathy Maskel, worked wonders on the Gore Bay stage. It will blossom even further with the expanded lighting and larger space provided by the Sault venue.

The play will be competing during the QUONTA festival and taking to the stage once again as part of the Gore Bay Theatre Company’s summer main stage production.