Review: The Shame of the Meek

Review | by Sean McQuaid

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The Shame of the Meek is a deceptively simple show, yet also oddly complex. It’s simple structurally and conceptually – it’s a show about unwed mothers pressured into giving up their babies for adoption and consists primarily of monologues about this, with some related dialogues thrown in – but it’s also complicated in terms of what all went into achieving it.

The complexity starts with the show’s credits: created by Linda Wigmore and Norah Pendergast; research by Pendergast; story by Wigmore, Pendergast, Karen Crawford, Suzanne Burns, Theresa Aylward & Sandy Comeau; edited by Kelly Caseley & Nancy McLure; written by Wigmore; directed by Wigmore & McLure; and starring McLure, Wigmore, Sharlene MacLean, Gillian Mahen, Tamara Steele & Scott Parsons, with a special reading by Stella Shepard and songs by Parsons.

After interviewing mothers for an article she was writing about PEI’s adoption history, Pendergast teamed with Wigmore to develop a theatrical show written by Wigmore, featuring the tales of six mothers who had agreed to share their stories of giving babies up for adoption, Wigmore herself included. The stories span periods of PEI history ranging from the 1930s to the 1990s.

The duo hoped to draw attention to backward attitudes and practices of the past regarding adoptions, when church officials and others often shamed, pressured or manipulated young unwed mothers into giving up their babies. The topic is especially timely now since PEI’s laws regarding adoption records are being reassessed and changes are reportedly in the works.

Wigmore turned the stories of herself and the other mothers into a set of monologues, holding private readings as the show was further revised, expanded and refined. She and her collaborators worked towards a fuller staging for the general public, achieving that in October with a version co-produced by Shh Productions and their show’s venue, The Kings Playhouse.

That staging started with local author Stella Shepard (a single mother herself) reading thematically linked excerpts from her work for a receptive crowd. Singer-songwriter Scott Parsons dialed up the energy after that with original songs related to the subject, emotional and well-played stuff, followed by The Shame of the Meek itself.

The play had some logistical hiccups – two of its planned actors were unexpectedly unavailable – so Parsons gamely stepped in at the last second to fill in for one of them and Wigmore took on additional material as well.

This was helped by the fact that the cast didn’t all seem to be strictly off-book (though some were much freer in that regard than others), such that the show seemed like a transitional hybrid of sorts, more than just a staged reading but not wholly removed from that model. Since nearly the entire show consists of monologues at a podium and a couple of dialogues at a desk, texts could be inconspicuously present as needed.

If that staging sounds fairly basic and dry in terms of sets and blocking, it is, and some of the dialogue segments feel a bit stiff in terms of script as well as presentation; but there’s lots of stirring emotion packed into this show regardless, with all its heartfelt true stories told by Wigmore herself and by skilled fellow performers, notably a consistently moving Mahen and a viscerally angry, often funny Steele. Together, Wigmore and friends shed some light on a dark subject, doing so with compelling passion, dignity and grace.

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Sean McQuaid

Mild-mannered Hansard reporter 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, cats and untold thousands of comic books.