A small, dark gem

Review: Tuesdays & Sundays

by Sean McQuaid

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Co-written by DualMinds duo Daniel Arnold and Medina Hahn in 2000 when they were University of Alberta theatre students, Tuesdays & Sundays was their first play. After its Edmonton debut, it went on to win awards and tour around the world, adapted for radio on CBC and the BBC, and optioned as a film.

Inspired by teenage lovers William Millman and Mary Tuplin, whose real-life romance in Margate, Prince Edward Island ended tragically in 1887, the play finds the disoriented spirits of William and Mary in a limbo realm reliving their doomed love story in a fragmentary, disjointed, stream-of-consciousness jumble of memories that charms us with idyllic small-town life until it shocks us with brutality and death.

It’s like a lost evil twin of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, or a dark, distorted funhouse mirror version of It’s a Wonderful Life. Like the latter’s George Bailey, this play’s version of William Millman is an ambitious young man with dreams of escaping his sleepy little town, dreams derailed in part by falling for a younger local girl who adores him; but where George resigns himself to being stuck in Bedford Falls and ultimately thrives there, the weak, selfish William rages against his fate with disastrous results.

Amazingly, it took 20 years for this PEI-based play to be produced on Prince Edward Island. New local company Kitbag Theatre mounted the show in 2020 at the Watermark, where it had a brief but successful run despite the pandemic, and they’re now reviving it for a 2021 Maritime tour including several dates at the Mack.

Like the 2020 run, this 2021 revival features Kitbag’s three founders in key roles: Melissa MacKenzie and Jacob Hemphill starring as Mary and William (and doubling as various other characters as needed), with Rebecca Parent serving as the show’s director.

All three are impressive individually but even more impressive collectively, because this play more than most demands collaborative chemistry, focus and unity; with its seemingly endless flow of intercut, overlapping, fragmentary dialogue and its wide array of emotional, spatial and tonal shifts, there’s no room for error in terms of knowing their script and being in synch with each other, and the trio pulls it off by creating and sustaining an organically dreamlike, ultimately nightmarish vision.

That stellar core creative team is enhanced by expert support, including producer/stage manager Beth Elliot (who also shares set and lighting design credits with Pat Caron), plus costumes by Shawnte Burrell, sound design by Ryan Doucette, and music by Brielle Ansems. All of the above do fine work here, with particular kudos for the eerily minimalist set (more echoes of Our Town) and the evocative light and sound, with Doucette and Ansems doing a lot via the latter to build the claustrophobic sense of dread that permeates the show.

One of Kitbag Theatre’s stated goals has been presenting professional theatre year-round in PEI–and by staging such a lustrously polished version of this compact, complex gem well outside PEI’s peak theatre season, they’ve succeeded admirably.

Sean McQuaid
Sean McQuaid

Mild-mannered legislative researcher by day and oddball freelance writer by night, past Buzz editor Sean McQuaid has been a contributor since the '90s and a theatre enthusiast for longer than that. He lives in Charlottetown with his wife, daughter, cat and untold thousands of comic books.