Drama in two acts by David French premiered at the Tarragon Theatre, May 16, 1972, directed by Bill Glassco, set by Dan Yarhi and Stephen Katz, costumes by Vicky Manthorpe, featuring Maureen Fitzgerald, Frank Moore, Mel Tuck, Sean Sullivan, Lynne Griffin, Liza Creighton, and Leslie Carlson.
The work is the first of what has come to be known as the Mercer Plays (Of the Fields, Lately, Salt-Water Moon, 1949, Soldier's Heart). It introduced a unique Canadian voice to the world, and demonstrated that Canadian playwrights could write plays on Canadian subjects, and people would flock to see them.
The piece is set in the 1950s and as critic Herbert Whittaker of the Globe and Mail said at the play's premiere, "[it] smacks of autobiography." The play introduces two families, one Catholic and one Protestant, before a wedding rehearsal. The troubles between the two clans serve as a catalyst for exposing the troubles within the Mercer family itself; between the mother and father and particularly between one son and his father. All hell breaks loose with the family finally falling to pieces as the father refuses to attend the wedding rehearsal and the son announces he is leaving.
This is an actor's piece and from all reports both Sean Sullivan as the father and Frank Moore as the son were magnificent in the Toronto premiere. Urjo Kareda, then writing for the Toronto Star, said that though the piece was a genre play, "...[it] cannot be dismissed when the writing is as mature, intelligent and compassionate as here."
In an article on the creation of the work, French wrote, "Each time a problem was solved, the solution in turn would create a host of other problems that had to be solved. It is a slow and stumbling way to work, but it does offer at least one consolation and a rather important one: each character in the play will be there for a definite dramatic purpose...It was the most cathartic experience of my life. The more I began to understand the relationships in the family the more moved I became. There were times I couldn't see the typewriter for tears, and times I would almost topple my chair howling with laughter at the funny things the people said and did."
Further Reading: Anne Nothof. "David French and the Theatre of Speech." Canadian Drama 13.2 (1987): 216-223.
Commentary by Gaetan Charlebois.
Last updated 2021-02-15