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'Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz: The Farmerettes' by Alison Lawrence. Based on the book by Shirleyan English and Bonnie Sitter

Presented by 4th Line Theatre at the Winslow Farm, 779 Zion Line, Millbrook to July 20.

Wayne Eardley

Joe Szekeres

“The at times uneven script certainly doesn’t detract from the importance of learning about Canada’s Farmerettes.”

God Bless 4th Line Theatre.

The company aims commendably to help audiences learn more about local Canadian history, especially the ‘unsung heroes,’ as director Autumn Smith aptly puts it in her program Notes.

This opening night performance of ‘Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz: The Farmerettes’ made me aware of the significant contribution of women during World War 2.

Based on Shirleyan English and Bonnie Sitter's book, playwright Alison Lawrence honours the story of these young women who ‘live outside the box.’ These young women left their homes from across the country and sometimes big cities to work as farm labourers. In this production, the ladies master the art of removing fuzz from peaches and skins from onions. But these feisty gals also learn more. They learn a great deal about themselves and the value of their strength (physically and internally) while wanting to make a difference in the lives of others. The Farmerettes’ work supported Ontario farms and the troops overseas.

Act One brings to life working on Grimsby farms in 1942, and the second focuses on Thorold farms in 1945.
Lawrence turns English and Sitter’s book from a collection of essays, letters, photos, and memories into a narrative play.

Was that choice by the playwright a successful one?

More about that shortly.

The Winslow farm is the ideal setting for a play about farmwork, set in rolling green hills. On this opening night, the sky opened, and it rained steadily for about 15 minutes, which would mean nothing to farm workers unless there was lightning. Thankfully, the sky cleared, and the show continued.

During the pre-show, there was that sense of less being more on the stage. A few props and set items indicated that the audience has been transported to another time. There is no mention of a Set Designer in the Program, but there were a few wooden boxes centre stage. Clotheslines were strung near the back with some pegs which looked as if perhaps pictures or other items would be clipped.

Korin Cormier, Avelyn Waldman and Samantha Addams’ costume designs appropriately reflect the mid-1940s. The matching blue uniform outfits catch the eye and are built for wear and tear since they are removed and put back on during the show. Justin Hiscox’s selection of pre-show music and scene transitions are perfect reminders of another era in which we have been magically transported. Steáfán Hannigan’s sound design is nicely set to audibility so that we can hear the actors and the lyrics of the songs without deafening the audience’s ears.

Autumn Smith directs the production with a clear purpose in mind. The entire playing space is used to its maximum. Through the ‘muck and mire’ as Smith states in her Director’s Note, these Farmerette women serve as a guide to gratefulness for what Canadians all have had historically and presently.

That is something important I’ve learned from this production. Thanks, Autumn, for that gentle reminder.

Rebecca Birrell, Aimée Gordon, Reena Goze, Megan Murphy, Carina Salajan, and Alicia Salvador pay due respect to Smith’s vision for these young women who lived outside the box, as playwright Lawrence had written in her Programme Note. The performers deliver lovely work on stage. The different sounds, cadences, and nuances of their voices and vocal ranges made me pay attention to their individual stories.

Now to return to the question asked earlier.

Was Alison Lawrence's choice to turn this story from English and Sitter’s book into a narrative play successful?

For the most part, yes.

However, the script doesn’t fully and consistently maintain the needed dramatic tension in Act One. For example, the individual letters the characters read aloud are essential. That’s an important dramatic tool for the audience to learn more about these women. But that learning gets lost somehow. Is it possible to look at this element?

Additionally, song and music don’t add to the required tension in the first act. Instead, it detracts. I appreciate the work that has gone into the vocal preparation and the use of music and song under Justin Hiscox’s fine direction and original compositions because it’s endearing to hear it. Nevertheless, the dramatic intensity and building tension grind to a halt while the cast sings or music plays. It takes several moments for that tension to build before it stops yet again. while the cast sings or the band plays during a scene change. Again, is it possible to look at this too?

It is in Act Two that the dramatic tension builds effectively and consistently maintains attention. Smith opportunely creates some fascinating on-stage moments of tension regarding the Japanese internment camps in Canada. Some terrific moments here, especially from Reena Gooze and Alicia Salvador.

And Another Thought: I was glad to meet these ladies and to hear and to see their stories. A trip to the public library will be in order to read the book.

Running time: approximately two hours and fifteen minutes with one interval/intermission.

The production runs until July 20 at The Winslow Farm, 779 Zion Line, Millbrook.

For tickets, visit the website: 4thlinetheatre.on.ca or call 705-932-4445.

4th LINE THEATRE presents
ONION SKINS & PEACH FUZZ: THE FARMERETTES
Based on the book by Shirleyan English and Bonnie Sitter
Playwright: Alison Lawrence

Directed by Autumn Smith
Music Direction and Original Compositions by Justin Hiscox
Performers: Rebecca Birrell, Aimée Gordon, Reena Gooze, Megan Murphy, Carina Sa

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