Women of conviction

The Mack, Charlottetown Festival
August 2018

If I’m driving through the country and my eyes fall on an abandoned house or a farm that has long since fallen into disarray I can’t help but wonder who might have lived there.

What kind of lives did they lead?

Was it place where people lived full, happy lives, a place where music and laughter were heard, or one where sadness dwelled and life was just a lot of hard work with little to show for it at day’s end.

Every country road on P.E.I. has a story to tell.

But all too often those stories have been lost to time because no one wrote them down or, even more regrettably, there was no one to pass them on to.

Fortunately there are those who recognize the importance of preserving those stories and sharing them with others.

In Stories from the Red Dirt Road, which opened recently at The Mack, four of those stories are brought beautifully to life by a stellar cast in a production that sparkles and shines like so many diamonds.

Written by Marlane O’Brien, who also figures prominently in the cast of this most charming and endearing work, the show is based upon And My Name Is…Stories From The Quilt, a novel by Island author and songwriter Margie Carmichael.

The stories, which are woven together through a collection of songs and observations about life on the Island, are based on women Carmichael has met during the course of her life.

They are women of character, courage and inner strength, women of conviction who faced life head on, made the choices they had to make and lived with the consequences, good or bad.

The lives of each of these women is represented by a quilt comprised of many patchwork pieces, each piece  representative of an aspect off their lives.

The stories told here are all very different on the surface but there is a common thread running through them and that thread is one of perseverance and determination.

One story tells of a young woman from a highly respected family who falls in love with an Irish sailor on leave and bears his child. She refuses to give the child up, leaves her comfortable life and raises her son on a farm in the country.

In another story a middle aged woman living on her own in the country takes in a male boarder with a history of mental health issues, despite the protestations of an uptight niece, and makes a better life for both of them.

The life of a Mi’Kmaq woman who survived being ripped from her family and being forced into a residential school where they tried but failed to destroy her spirit and her culture forms another moving chapter.

And then there’s the story of a woman who ultimately makes her mark in life as a mortician, one intent on making the dearly departed look their best for the hereafter.

This is a great deal of humour in these stories but the show has its fair share of drama as well.

The characters who populate Stories from the Red Dirt Road could not be in better hands than the cast brought together for this production, each of whom plays multiple roles and most also play an instrument.

O’Brien, Katie Kerr, Susan Henley and Andrea Menard star as the four women at the centre of these stories while Shawn Wright, Sheldon Elter and Connor Lucas play all male roles. Melanie Phillipson serves as a narrator, tying everything together.

But they aren’t the only stars here.

O’Brien’s script and the dozen or so songs and poems, most of them penned by Carmichael and/or Steve Sharratt, also rate star billing.

Skillfully directed by Ann Hodges, Stories from the Red Dirt Road will move you, it will entertain you and it will send you home with a smile on your face.

Former Entertainment/Business reporter at The Guardian - Transcontinental Media