In a slow year, my husband and I attend over twenty-five theatrical productions, but we generally avoid musicals because many shows should not have been set to music. MAGGIE, A New Musical, with its world premiere at Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius, is an exception.
We saw MAGGIE on April 20th, one night before its opening; a guest from Victoria was visiting, and we wanted her to see it before she left town. I, however, was in the midst of treatment for pneumonia, with little energy for anything other than lying on the couch. That night, MAGGIE was a tonic. The next day, on Facebook, I posted the following note: If you loved Come From Away and The Last Ship, then MAGGIE is the hat-trick. Community. Family. Motherhood. Sons. Girlfriends. This play has it all. I laughed, I cheered, and I cried. The score is evocative, the lyrics advance the plot, and the actors have powerful lungs. For all my FB friends in Toronto and points around, It’s worth the drive to Hamilton.
So, it was with surprise, nay dismay, that I read Kelly Nestruck’s review in the Globe and Mail on April 29th. Please read it to appreciate my notes which follow.
I could agree with Mr. Nestruck on only one point: Uncle Charles’s busted lip should have been addressed earlier in the scene. (I volunteer with makeup and costumes in school theatrical productions and understand the challenges of quick changes and makeup mishaps.)
On many other points, I beg to differ. Mr. Nestruck suggested that we, the audience, “barely knew Jimmy.” I suspect every woman who saw the play remembers Jimmy. He was the husband who serenaded his heavily pregnant wife before heading to the mine. And when he looked wistfully and lustfully at her, I suspect most women knew that before he left with his hard hat and lunchpail, the young couple stopped by the bedroom. Feeling loved and beautiful when one is terminally pregnant is precious beyond measure. The man was a keeper. But, that evening, as Maggie waited for Jimmy’s return, I didn’t find it strange that the miners walked past Maggie and didn’t tell her that her husband had died. Their single-file procession was ominous. Either they didn’t yet know of Jimmy’s death, or it wasn’t their news to share: It was above their pay grade. Or a last thought, they behaved as many people do in tragic situations: They were in shock and didn’t have the words to express their grief and the terror that they could be next.
Mr. Nestruck notes that Maggie is a “busy but not active protagonist.” Yes, her paid work is visible to us. She scrubs floors, probably until her knuckles are raw, but it’s her invisible work, everything she does to keep home and hearth together, that shines: three well-fed sons with aspirations beyond Lanark, the relationship between and among her boys, and their respect for her. She survives (is “unbreakable”) because she has no choice; a coal miner’s widow in the 1950s would have had little, or no pension.
Mr. Nestruck also expressed concern about the time jumps and suggested that a narrator could have handled them better. I’ve lived through that same stretch and found the time jumps to be both visible and audible. Hairstyles and clothing for both men and women changed with each era. As for the “jokey … cliché about women’s history,” I didn’t hear jokes or clichés. I heard women with little formal education coming into their own, claiming their space. They were beginning to understand that a penis didn’t make someone better, smarter, or more worthy.
And finally, it is the women who were memorable to me. I celebrated their endurance, their friendships, their humour, and their collective decision to finally stand up to a man who abused his wife.
Until this review, I have welcomed Mr. Nestruck’s observations. In 2015, his critique of Sweet Charity made me realize I wanted to comment on theatrical productions; I fully agreed with his negative assessment of that show. His review gave me courage; I did grasp the complexity and nuance of what I was seeing on stage. From there a blog was born. I adore the theatre and hoped my blog could help put bums in seats. Had I read his review before I booked tickets, I might never have made the trip to NOTL, and I would not have started this blog. Since 2015, I’ve commented on the productions I’ve enjoyed, and when I find one lacking, I stay quiet. Why? I haven’t the theatrical chops to speak with confidence. Can you really trust someone who has to look up the meaning of hagiography? But, more importantly, I have no wish to cause heartache: I know how much effort goes into moving characters and settings from the page to the stage.
Theatre critics have a responsibility to be critical; Mr. Nestruck is doing his job and he does it well. I will count on the writers and Mary Francis Moore to do theirs as they sift through his comments and make revisions that will have this outstanding show soar.
MAGGIE leaves Hamiton for Charlottetown after the May 7th performance. I wish it Godspeed and trust that all my friends on the east coast will find MAGGIE their reason to visit the Charlottetown Festival.
Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend.