There’s skill on display here, but I don’t know what it’s in service of.
In Spinning You Home, playwright Sally Stubbs freely embellishes the true story of John “Cariboo” Cameron, a nineteenth-century prospector who struck it rich in the Cariboo Gold Rush, but is more renowned for fulfilling the deathbed promise he made to his wife Sophia. He pledged to return her body to Cornwall, Ontario, which he did, her corpse pickled in a metal-lined coffin filled with alcohol.
Stubbs frames this story as a conversation between a character called Grampa and his granddaughter Sarah: Grampa starts telling the tale, then the two of them act it out. Playwright Stubbs is related through marriage to Cariboo Cameron and Sophia; in her play, so are Grampa and Sarah.
The source material is undeniably intriguing and director Sarah Rodgers provides a handsome production. In Brian Ball’s resourceful, cemetery-inspired set, a coffin also serves as a bed and a bathtub, and a grave marker does double-duty as a closet. And, in a pleasing device, Cariboo Cameron’s best friend Robert Stevenson is onstage as a musician (Evan Rein) who also provides foley effects, including the sounds of thunder and sloshing water. Actors Simon Webb and Sarah Roa do fine work as Grampa and Sarah.
The writing celebrates the joys of storytelling, of invention. At one point, Sarah imagines Sophia escaping from her coffin in a storm at sea and becoming a mermaid who visits King Neptune.
But what is all of this in aid of? There are two relationships in the play, but neither is developed with any depth. Cariboo Cameron’s epic journey with his wife’s corpse was, presumably, inspired by his love for her, but we see virtually none of that. There’s no backstory, no history, no detail. And, although I realized part way into the evening that we were supposed to take as a given the love between Grampa and Sarah, very little about their interactions encouraged me to do so.
Although I appreciate the script’s celebration of narrative invention, there’s not enough to it to provide thematic satisfaction.
For me, this production of Spinning You Home is a reasonably handsome effort that lacks substance.
SPINNING YOU HOME By Sally Stubbs. Directed by Sarah Rodgers. Presented by Spinners Collective. At the Jericho Arts Centre on Friday, October 8. Continues until October 31. Tickets
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