When I received the email invitation to the Opening Night Performance of Prairie Theatre Exchange (PTE)’s “Gracie”, a play written by Joan MacLeod, I was immediately intrigued by the description –
“Gracie’s world is full of faith and family, but as a fifteen-year-old girl brought into a polygamous community as a small child, she feels increasing pressure to conform. Will she dare to take the leap and step into the outside world?”
Hold on a second…polygamous?
I’m sure that I’m not the only one who is intrigued by the lives lived in communities who have separated themselves from main-stream society, due to faith and a desire to avoid the consumerist and sin-riddled masses. (*waves at fans of the TLC “reality show” “Breaking Amish” and Discovery’s “Amish Mafia”*) There is something about being a fly on the wall of these sorts of communities that is very compelling. Through the play we get a very interesting view, indeed.
The titular character, Gracie, arrives at a polygamist colony in B.C. at the age of eight, along with her older sisters and a brother. They are all a part of a package for the male community leader, which includes taking Gracie’s mother as his eighteenth wife.
The play charts Gracie’s arrival in this new colony from a similar colony in the United States. We see the colony, and Gracie’s family, through her eyes as she adjusts and integrates into the closed colony of arranged marriages for young girls and forced labour for young boys.
We watch Gracie, masterfully portrayed by Samantha Hill, a Winnipegger who now calls New York her home, grow up and struggle to fit into a world where women are considered of marriageable-age at fifteen. Given how different and comparatively closed her world-view is, Gracie is a very relatable character. We were all fifteen and struggled to fit in, even if Gracie’s struggles overall are quite different and shocking.
As a one-person play, Samantha Hill carries the unfolding of Gracie’s world and experiences with believable aplomb. Gracie is feisty and funny and has decided opinions of her own. As an audience, we like and root for Gracie from the beginning of the play to the very end, as she embarks on a new life.
The set, designed by Gemini Award winning Brian Perchaluk, is minimalist and used to great effect to help Samantha tell Gracie’s story.
Coming in at around 90 minutes from start to finish, there is no intermission. As someone who rarely ever stays in one place for long, I was gripped by Gracie’s story all the way through!
“Gracie” runs at Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange until October 29th.
All photos are Samantha Hill in GRACIE by Joan MacLeod at Prairie Theatre Exchange. Photos by Leif Norman.