The Fighting Days’ Cast Discusses the Play’s Crucial Timing

Jenny Wright plays Nellie McClung in Essential Collective Theatre’s “The Fighting Days” / Stcatharinesstandard.com

 

First produced by Prairie Theatre Exchange in 1983,  has come to St. Catharines’ FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. Directed by Monica Dufault, the play has been put on just in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. Set in Winnipeg during 1910-1917, the play tells the story of Francis Marion Beynon, a journalist and political activist. Upon her move to Winnipeg, she meets Nellie McClung and becomes involved in the women’s rights movement.

“I think it’s to remind everyone that not so long ago women weren’t considered equal and now, with the tone of the U.S. election, there’s a lot of rhetoric that makes me think ‘huh, this is familiar’, especially with the work we’re doing,”said Reanne Spitzer, who plays Francis Benyon.

Jenny Wright, who plays the famed Nellie McClung and is local to Niagara-on-the-Lake, agreed that there are themes in the play that still speak to us now, specifically about the rights of persons and the place of women in society.

“It’s also exciting because it’s a big piece of Canadian history,” said Wright, who’s been at the Shaw Festival for 20 years. “I’m from the prairies, I was raised in Saskatchewan, so she sounds a bit like my grandmas. It feels personal that way. I grew up near a Nellie McClung public school in Calgary.”

Christina Nicolaou, who plays Lillian Benyon, Francis’ younger sister, concurred with the timeliness of the play, saying, “Something that’s really crazy about this show is that it’s so relevant and in a lot of ways that’s unfortunate. [Wright] speaks these words and it rings so true to what’s happening today. It’s been a hundred years and we’ve come so far but there’s still so far to go. When we speak a lot of these words I find myself thinking that it’s too bad this is still something we need to keep discussing, and something that stills needs to be reminded to these audiences. It’s a little unfortunate in some ways, but it’s also a beautiful opportunity to share these words with our audiences.”

Darren Keay, who plays George McNair, commented on his character’s personal journey.

“He’s got a very personal journey that he goes through but, in terms of what Lill’s written in this script and how the male perspective relates today, one thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is that in this play he represents a very traditionalist point of view which, sadly, we can still see so much today,” said Keay, “For a man to see this and consider this play, is to look at two big political perspectives out there, two big leaders right now; one is the idiot to the South and the other is the guy who’s running our country right now. What I can is, as a male, what our perspective can become – knowing a woman’s real place, which is right alongside us as equals. You would think it wouldn’t have taken a hundred years, but sadly it has and we’re still fighting.”

 

‘The Fighting Days’ will continue to play at the PAC for November 2-4.

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