“And what the dead had no speech for, when living,

They can tell you, being dead…”

— T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.

History records facts, dates, and events. Individuals are rarely noted, except on monuments to the dead, a listing of those killed in war. The towering stone cenotaph to the fallen in Barrie, Ontario, is one such monument, dedicated to the sons of the city who lost their lives in great conflicts.

The Cenotaph Project is a new play inspired by Clint Lovell’s book, The Boys From Barrie. The project began in late 2018. Theatre by the Bay artists worked with Eastview drama students to investigate the legacy of WWII in 2019. Analyzing the stories of real soldiers who fought for their country, these students lifted their stories off the page. The Cenotaph Project is an attempt to remember history, generations after the events have passed.

But who were those men, whose names are listed, carved into the towering stone monument in downtown Barrie?  Most died young, before they had lived long enough to achieve their dreams. The details are scarce. And though women’s names are missing, many rendered service.

Photo by Laura Joy Photography

The Cenotaph Project, created by Danielle Joy Kostrich, and directed by Leah Holder, has opened in Barrie, Ontario, at the Five Points Theatre.

In the drama, we watch several of the students given their assignment, to research the names they are given, mostly of the soldiers who died during World War II. This group is told to comb the archives, books, letters, etc, to see if they can dig up information and understand the deceased better. And provide material for a drama.

In the opening scene, it’s apparent the young students know little of World War II, its causes and how the conflict spread like wildfire across the world. Few understand that an estimated 80 million people died, a number greater than double the present population of Canada. This great conflict, that ended less than 75 years ago, is now all but forgotten. It’s barely recalled that World War II nearly resulted in the end of all the democracies, replaced by a global police state, carved up by various ruthless dictatorships.

Photography by Laura Joy Photography

Initially, the students/actors are mostly indifferent to this task. As a refresher course, they act out the surface actions and events that led to war, waving the flags of the various nations and how they eventually divided up into two major and opposing alliances, the Allied and the Axis forces.

But as the students delve deeper into the facts about the men who gave up their lives in this titanic struggle, the dead begin to reanimate in odd ways, assert their presence. The students soon find themselves haunted, troubled, and even possessed by those who have lived in an earlier time. As the young begin to feel empathy with the fallen, they also find themselves, and their own personal awakening.

The cast is relentless in exploring the details and emotions of the ones who died in the war, which includes the thousands who died in training, merely being prepared for combat. It’s also discovered how many women worked as auxiliaries, joining the war effort in every area, their heroic work barely noted.

Young actors (students) preparing to play those who died in World War II. Image by Adrienne Callan Photography

The students enact a series of war scenes. There is one where a nurse has to perform an emergency medical operation on an officer. There’s a harrowing scene in which a warship sinks and a soldier drowns.

The total scope of The Cenotaph Project is epic, and the drama itself stands as a monument to the hard work of the playwright, actors, and director. Still, there are imperfections in this script, production, and performance. There are moments when the actors’ voices don’t carry in a theatre the size of Five Points. The actors shift from the present into characters of the past, and the number of storylines can become confusing. The play is long at two hours and a half, and it sometimes lacks the tension needed to grab one’s attention and hold it. But overall, it’s a highly worthy effort, and one must congratulate Iain Moggach, Theatre by the Bay’s new Artistic Director, for taking on this formidable enterprise.

Iain Moggach, new Artistic Director of Theatre by the Bay in Barrie, Ontario, Canada

It is often said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. But the truth is, learning isn’t an intellectual exercise; it’s an emotional experience. We are changed by our experiences and our stories, and The Cenotaph Project belongs firmly in that realm.

© copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.

The Cenotaph Project is a new play inspired by Clint Lovell’s book, The Boys From Barrie.

Written by Danielle Joy Kostrich
Directed by Leah Holder

Keelan Ballantyne
Alyssa Bartholomew
Drew Carter
Gabriella Circosta
Alex Clay
Alex Hurst
Avi Petliar
Madison Stewart

2019 Season Artists:
Production Manager: Rochelle Reynolds
Technical Director: Brittany-Ann Halbot
Set Designer: Joe Pagnan
Head Carpenter: Diane Frederick
Lighting Designer: Elizabeth Richardson
Sound Designer: Joshua Doerksen
Props Master: Brenda Thompson
Assistant Stage Manager: Lesley Coo

Cenotaph Project Creative Team:

Stage Manager: Khaleel Gandhi
Costume Designer: Claire McMillan
Assistant Director: Valeria Bravo

About Burke Campbell

Photographer, Writer, Journalist, Dramatist.
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