‘Molly Sweeney’ receives rave reviews at QUONTA fest.

The Gore Bay Theatre’s outstanding production of “Molly Sweeney” will hit the stage for the third and final time this evening (Friday) at the Gore Bay Community Hall. The cast includes, from left, Tara Bernatchez, Will Smith and John Robertson.

GORE BAY – As QUONTA adjudicator Annette G. Procunier began her private remarks with the cast and crew of the Gore Bay Theatre production of famed Irish playwright Brian Friel’s ‘Molly Sweeney,’ co-directors Walter Maskel and Andrea Emmerton could have been forgiven for purring and grinning like Cheshire cats, if either of those veterans of the stage were given to such behaviour. Ms. Procunier’s comments were nothing short of glowing.

One line sums up Ms. Procunier’s assessment of the onstage performances of the three cast members. “I never once saw an actor on stage—I saw characters telling a story from three different perspectives.”

As for the director’s interpretation of the Mr. Friel’s work, Ms. Procunier was equally effusive in her praise. “Irish storytelling at its best,” she said.

What takes the adjudicator’s praise up and beyond to stratospheric levels is that Ms. Procunier is not one given to pulling punches. She wrote the book on adjudicating—the only book—‘Do You See What I See?’ She has worked in community, educational and professional theatre for over 45 years, not only as an adjudicator, but as a director, stage manager, play polisher, adjudicator and workshop leader.

As a director she has worked for 17 different theatre companies in Canada and the United States and her productions have won awards and critical acclaim. One of the founders of two professional theatre companies in Canada, she has served on the boards of opera and theatre companies as well as representing Canada internationally and on the board of Theatre Canada.

With her skills in high demand, Ms. Procunier has participated in festivals in Europe, Canada, Japan and the US, judging more than 125 festivals over 30 years including QUONTA, EODL and the Theatre Ontario Festival. She has adjudicated the World Theatre Festival in Monaco and the national festival for the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT) four times.

Ms. Procunier has been made a fellow of AACT for “single-handedly raising the level of community theatre in America” and is the first non-American to hold that distinction.

QUONTA festival adjudicator Annette G. Procunier delivered a glowing critique of the play to the cast and crew of Gore Bay Theatre’s production of ‘Molly Sweeney’ after last Friday’s performance. photo by Michael Erskine

In recent years she has worked extensively with playwrights in Canada and the United States on script development and has been a judge in several play writing competitions.

When Ms. Procunier speaks, the theatre listens.

Ms. Procunier began with the stage, praising simplicity of the stage design, which still managed to convey complex symbolism and depth, ably enhanced through the outstanding use of the limited lighting available to the troupe. “Just gorgeous,” she said.

The lighting deftly assisted the actors in transitioning in and out of their scenes. “Everything was a natural transition,” she said.

Although the three actors all remained on stage during the production, there was no direct interaction between them. When outside the spotlight, each actor maintained such a stillness of body that they practically became invisible to the audience—although as Ms. Procunier pointed out, even in their stillness there was symbolism conveyed through their posture and position.

As for the actors, Tara Bernatchez in the title role of Molly Sweeney delivered one of the most outstanding performances of her long and accomplished career with Gore Bay Theatre. Ms. Procunier lauded her performance and the costume choice and lighting that meshed so well with her character. There were no faults discernible to either The Expositor or the adjudicator.

Will Smith also delivered a tour de force as the ophthalmologist Mr. Rice. Ms. Procunier had one note about his costuming (suggesting his sartorial demeanor might have been better if a touch shabbier). “But it is all about choices,” she said. The adjudicator’s sole suggestion to Mr. Smith’s performance was that perhaps he should have been more attentive to the flask from which he sipped throughout the production.

John Robertson’s Frank Sweeney captured the audience’s rapt attention without mercy—not one foot shuffle was to be heard and his phrenic portrayal of the oh-so enthusiastic husband managed to portray the character without climbing over the top into parody.

The development of the character arcs in the story was superb. “The development of the characters, how they changed from where they were at the beginning,” she said. “You are such skilled performers.”

Each of the three actors used their body language and non-static performances to enhance their character’s narratives. “You were not just sitting there telling a story, but sharing with us,” she said. 

In fact, Ms. Procunier found herself apologizing to the cast and crew for a dearth of critical notes. “When it is this good, there just isn’t a lot to pick at.”

Those who missed this incredible production will have another opportunity later this summer, as ‘Molly Sweeney’ is in the line-up for this summer’s GBT repertoire theatre offerings.

The QUONTA festival awards ceremony will take place at the DFR Sports Bar and Eatery in Espanola (224 Station Road) on Sunday, March 8 starting at 11 am.