In their second all-female cast of the season, Windsor’s University Players return with an obscure 1942 Dymphna Cusack play called Morning Sacrifice. In this current run, UP captures the intensity and sorrow of the story with a gorgeous set, perfect costumes and some fun narrative to make the dark story flow a little easier.
Morning Sacrifice is an odd choice in some ways. It takes place entirely in the staff room of an Australian all-girls school in the 1930s and deals with a modernist women’s movement that was happening long before it did anywhere else in the world. The sexual politics of the play and the manner in which those issues are tackled, exemplified the way Australian women spoke in this quest for equality. But it also brings out the bickering, backstabbing and the overall frustration these teachers were working with every day of their careers.
In other ways, Morning Sacrifice is a great choice for the 2020 season. It shows the early foundations of the feminist movement and how difficult that change could be, even within an all-female setting.
Right from the get-go, the characters are separated into two groups so the issues of sexuality and femininity could be argued and explored to their full extent. It’s a completely female view, written by Cusack, who based the story on her own victimization by the New South Wales Department of Education in the late 1930s. She faced a system that had hardly changed since the turn of the century, where most students left to begin work or undertake home duties as soon as they turned 14.
The central focus of the play is an increasingly bitter struggle between the teachers over the fate of Mary Grey (who never makes an appearance), a senior student at the school accused of immoral behaviour. Apparently, she kissed a boy and it may jeopardize her chances at a post-secondary education and career. The reality is, the event sparked a series of events that ends on a rather dark note.
Most of the characters in the show are unmarried and dedicated to a balanced work and home life, regardless of what that vision of home life actually looks like. Lead mostly by deputy headmistress Portia Kingsbury and a powerful performance from Katy Chapman, the idea of rules and regulations is militant and unrelentingly passed down throughout the show. Her group of seven teachers bounce in and out of scenes and arguments throughout the show.
Morning Sacrifice is a three-act play that runs about three hours, so it’s a lot to take in, but the university added narration throughout the entire show to give it some semblance of movement. Interestingly, the narration appears to be scene notes from the script, explaining the scenery, settings, actors and time of day. I’m not sure if those notes were ever meant to be read out loud, but for this show it works. It gave the play a bit of a Dick Tracy/murder mystery vibe and made the three hours pass a lot easier.
It’s a well-intentioned staging of an old and fairly obscure story, but it does bring up several issues that have plagued our Canadian school system for years. It’s 80 years after the show was written and we’re still dealing with government and education authorities systematically cutting public education budgets, closing schools and victimizing teachers attempting to defend their jobs and work conditions. I’m sure any teacher in the audience could easily recognize the signs.
While it’s not going to become anyone’s favourite show, Morning Sacrifice has a solid cast, incredible set and some pretty spiffy 1930s costumes, all worthy of our attention.
Morning Sacrifice runs for five more shows starting tonight (March 4) through Saturday (March 7). Tickets start at $8 for university students, up to 420 for the general public and are available at http://www.uwindsor.ca/universityplayers/301/box-office.
- Miss Portia Kingsbury – Katy Chapman
- Miss Rose Hammond – Lauren Watson
- Mrs. Macneil – Michelle Blight
- Miss Gwyn Carwithen – Kiera Publicover
- Miss Dora Pearl – Flora Janos
- Miss Charlotte Bates – Natalia Martin
- Miss Sheila Ray – Olivia Ridpath
- Miss Margaret Sole – Juli Docherty
- Miss Woods – Elena Reyes
Directed by Sarah Kitz
- Assistant Director – Bethany Joy Radford
- Stage Manager – Parker Manson
- Assistant Stage Managers – Maggie Pinsonneault and Alli Mcintee
- Costume Designer – Agatha Knelsen
- Scenic Designer – David Court
- Scenic Painter – Nancy Perrin
- Props Master and Scene Shop Coordinator – Valerie Bonasso
- Lighting Designer – Kristen Watt