'The Tilco Strike' by D'Arcy Jenish
Now onstage at 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ontario
Wayne Eardley, Brookside Studio
The world premiere of ‘The Tilco Strike’ written by D’Arcy Jenish is now running at 4th Line Theatre near the town of Millbrook, Ontario. Those familiar with this unique venue will recognize the creative adaptable theatre space that runs two productions every summer. A rustic outdoor space, using a barn as a backdrop (and a backstage) is perfect for a summer evening’s entertainment and for plays that reflect local history and culture.
‘The Tilco Strike’ fits both categories perfectly. A true story set in 1965 Peterborough, it recounts the labour battle at a small plastics factory between management and a number of feisty women workers who strike against difficult odds and personal hardship. To call this an ‘ensemble’ piece is not quite accurate due to the size of the cast – a parade of talent is more exact. And from that parade there are a number of highlights.
Lil Downer and her counterparts have worked at Tilco for years earning a minimum wage of just over a dollar an hour. Each has their own story about family, difficult budgets and complex relationships. The factory is typical of the 1960s – time clock, factory floor and whitewashed cafeteria – each is cleverly blended into the unique space by designer Esther Vincent. The hardnose manager, Dutch Pammett, is barely civil with his employees. Enter a labour organizer who manages to sign the reluctant girls to a textile union. Lil then leads the cause with both victories and losses.
Memorable performances begin with Katherine Cappellacci playing the resilient Lil who balances a difficult homelife and battles with management – she reinvents Sally Field standing on a table. Two actors stand out due to the range of emotional and philosophic changes their characters roll through. Ellyse Wolter plays a naïve and shrinking Rita who allows herself to be manipulated and bullied. As events move along, Rita becomes more self reliant and expressive while supporting her fellow workers. Jason Gray plays Donald Harwood who is the company president. He too, moves through a roller coaster of emotions as he balances his fiscal responsibilities to the company and his support for the workers. He just wants peace until he recognizes that Dutch Pammett’s hard line leads to all important profits.
M. John Kennedy brilliantly plays the evil Dutch – tenacious and unbending. He is the cigar wielding mustachioed brute who you can virtually see tying his buxom secretary to the train tracks as the locomotive approaches.
Sarah McNeilly, as Flossie, plays the most tragic figure as she tries to feed her family of seven while reluctantly supporting the cause. Her acting range is demonstrated with a clever comic turn as she imitates a local pastor’s sermon. Another comic delight comes from Hilary Wear as the eastern European factory supervisor who acts as a Greek Chorus trying to interpret the variety of events.
Local references pepper the writing from well-known eating establishments to hockey rivalries. An important story with entertaining performances makes for a memorable evening as the sun slowly sets on the Winslow farm.
‘The Tilco Strike’ by D’Arcy Jenish
Performers: Katherine Cappellacci, Matt Gilbert, Jason Gray, M. John Kennedy, Sarah McNeilly, Hilary Ware. For full list see: 4thlinetheatre.on.ca
Director: Cynthia Ashperger
Music director: Justin Hiscox
Set Designer: Esther Vincent
Production runs through July 22, 2023.