West: A Tribute to BC Trailblazers
October 14th, 2017
Review by Kiana Karimkhani – Showbill.ca Guest Writer
WEST: A Tribute to BC Trailblazers is a double-bill of short, one-person shows that tell the disparate stories of two pioneers: Catherine O’Hare Schubert and Fred Wells. Written by Victoria native Danette Boucher, she and real-life husband, James Douglas, portray the two overlanders. Boucher and Douglas are both UVic alums, committed to their characters’ narrative, though one story wields more depth than the other.
Act 1, titled “Lady Overlander,” is dedicated to Schubert. Her story begins in Ireland’s famished years (1835)—she crosses the sea for New York at 16, meets a German immigrant who becomes her husband, and momentarily settles with her family (now plus three children and pregnant with a fourth), and opens a grog shop (bar) in Fort Garry, now Winnipeg. It’s there, after proclaiming that “North America was a great story waiting to be told,” that Schubert’s own great story begins—with telling her husband that his plan to travel west for the gold rush without his family is not an option. Digging in her boots (and stockings), she becomes the only female member of a group of gold prospectors traveling to Kamloops in the spring of 1862—while still four months pregnant.
On their 134-day journey, the Schubert’s contend with hunger, the wet land (then dry land, then wet…), and the unforgiving bounds of the Rockies. With occasional flecks of Irish brogue, Boucher’s performance reminds us that a character did not simply trek west on foot and give birth in a village on the Thompson River—Catherine O’Hare Schubert did, before Canada was Canada, and long before any of us were here. Despite the foretold peaks and pits of the journey, the story unfolds in a manner that lacks real tension. We know Schubert will make it and she does—but it remains engaging (if not too short in comparison to act 2), and poetic in speech and in the concept of searching for a place to call home.
Act 2 is titled “The Fred Wells Show,” and is the story of the man for which Wells, BC is named after. Wells starts the piece by slowly (very slowly) stepping onto the stage, hanging his hat on a coat rack, and taking a seat on a wood stool in the center—and this is the pace it remains for most of the play. He says he’s a guy who “doesn’t like talking all that much,” but this is a piece that’s a lot of talk (and very little action).
Born in New Hampshire in 1861 (with a tough-guy, whaddya-lookin’-at accent, a match for De Niro in “Raging Bull”), Wells is a Depression-era entrepreneur who heads north in pursuit of a second gold rush in the Cariboo. With the help of investors, he prospects, finds gold, and develops a new town with other miners. Wells likes prospecting, pancakes, and “doing most things alone”—and for nearly an hour, there’s little more to take away. James Douglas’ performance is dedicated and focused, but midway through the details feel cyclic because, well, everything that needed to be said has already been said. The building of a town is undoubtedly a feat, but why this man’s story in lieu of the interminable pioneer stories we’ve read about and watched (and following Catherine O’Hare Schubert’s remarkable tale); it’s prosaic in comparison.
Collectively, WEST: A Tribute to BC Trailblazers does what it promises: it honors pioneers that were important to the foundation of this province. Their stories are significant, although markedly dry, at times, but for many, this format will be a welcomed improvement from a social studies textbook.
The Bottom Line
The sun sets in the West for Danette Boucher’s historical double-bill about two pioneers finding home in BC. The content is as promised, a tribute to BC trailblazers, though one story does this better than the other.
West: A Tribute to BC Trailblazers
A double bill by Histrionics Theatre Company
The Phoenix Theatre
- 8pm performances: October 12-21
- 2pm matinee performance on October 21