Then as the shades of night draw nigh
While parents quail and children cry
The ghosts of the Donnellys will ride by,
Out on the Roman Line
– Old Song
In Middlesex county in southern Ontario there’s a township called Lucan Biddulph, northwest of the city of London. Just north of Lucan is the Donnelly homestead, situated along the Roman Line, a road running through the region that was named after the high number of Roman Catholic Irish who settled there in the 19th Century.The Donnelly farm is said by locals to be haunted to this day. Little wonder. On a cold February night in 1880, an armed mob murdered five of the Donnellys in cold blood and burned their house to the ground. No one was ever convicted for the massacre.
The Donnellys, like many of their neighbours, came from County Tipperary, Ireland, in the 1840s, hoping like most to make a better life for themselves. When they settled in Ontario, they found that the battles of the old country had not been left behind. That part of Ontario was still fairly lawless in those days, a Canadian “wild west.” The Donnellys were a fierce clan, not afraid to stand up for themselves and to take what they felt was theirs. But as time went on, they found themselves increasingly at odds with their neighbours.
One hundred and thirty-three years after the Donnelly massacre, playwright Jonathan Christenson spent an afternoon in the old Donnelly homestead with the current owner of the property, Robert Salts. Out of that conversation, Christenson, the inventive artistic director of Catalyst Theatre, crafted a new Canadian musical entitled Vigilante. The Citadel Theatre is honoured to present the production’s World Premiere.
Benjamin Wardle, Lucas Meeuse, Carson Nattrass, Eric Morin
Jan Alexandra Smith
Kris Joseph, Scott Walters, Jan Alexandra Smith, David Leyshon
ALL PHOTOS TAKEN BY Dave DeGagné and Brad Gibbons dbphotographics.ca
March 7 - 29, 2015 - Maclab Theatre
A Catalyst Theatre Production
Book, music, and lyrics by Jonathan Christenson
Recommended for ages 13+
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Kris Joseph – Daniel Donnelly
David Leyshon – James Donnelly
Lucas Meeuse – Johnny Donnelly
Eric Morin – Robert Donnelly
Carson Nattrass – Will Donnelly
Jan Alexandra Smith – Johanna Donnelly
Scott Walters – Tommy Donnelly
Benjamin Wardle – Michael Donnelly
Jonathan Christenson – Writer, Director, Composer
Sarah Garton Stanley – Production Dramaturg
Laura Krewski – Choreographer
Betty Moulton – Voice, Text and Speech Director
John Raymond – Stage Manager
Matthew Skopyk – Music Producer and Additional Arrangements
Wade Staples – Sound Designer
Jenn Best – Assistant Stage Manager
Beth Kates – Lighting Designer
Megan Koshka – Costume Associate
Narda McCarroll – Costume Designer
Director, Jonathan Christenson
Jonathan is a director, playwright and composer, and artistic director of Catalyst Theatre. His plays have appeared throughout England, Scotland, Wales, Australia, the U.S. and Canada, having been presented on stages, large and small, from the Barbican Theatre in London to the New Victory in New York, the Traverse in Scotland to the Scott Theatre in Adelaide, and across Canada at Canadian Stage, Theatre Calgary, The Citadel and the Vancouver Playhouse, to name a few. His work has also appeared at such festivals as the London International Festival of Theatre, Le Carrefour, The High Performance Rodeo, the PuSh Festival and Luminato, as well as the Edinburgh and Adelaide Fringe Festivals. His plays include The Soul Collector, Nevermore – The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, The Blue Orphan, and The House of Pootsie Plunket, as well as adaptations of Frankenstein and Hunchback. His work has been honoured with fifteen Sterling Awards (Edmonton), a Betty Mitchell Award (Calgary), a SAT Award (Saskatoon), two Scotsman Fringe First Awards (Edinburgh), one Herald Angel Award (Edinburgh), and two City of Edmonton Salute to Excellence Awards, as well as multiple additional nominations for the Sterlings (Edmonton), The Stage Awards (UK), the Betty Mitchell Awards (Calgary), the Dora Awards (Toronto), and the Alberta Book Awards. In 2011, Venture Magazine named him one of “Alberta’s Fifty Most Influential People” and Alberta Playwrights Network chose him as one of Alberta’s one hundred most significant theatre artists of the past one hundred years.
Catalyst Theatre is renowned for its commitment to the production of new plays. Artistic Director Jonathan Christenson has himself been a major creative force in building Catalyst’s repertoire, creating such memorable works as Frankenstein, Hunchback, and Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe. Nevermore in fact is currently playing off-Broadway in New York.
When crafting Vigilante, Christenson was struck by the fact that most of the accounts of the Donnellys and their massacre was told from the vantage point of the perpetrators. He decided he wanted to tell the story from the perspective of the Donnellys themselves, potentially allowing their troubled spirits to finally rest. The language in the play is strong and salty, not unlike the language that such rough-hewn people would have used back in the time they lived. The music, according to Christenson, is aggressive, underscoring the brewing violence surrounding the Donnellys. He says he has essentially written a rock opera.
THE HISTORY OF THE DONNELLYS
On a cold February night in 1880, a mob attacked the home of a family of Irish immigrants living on contested land near London, Ontario. Five members of the Donnelly family were murdered that night: the patriarch James, his beloved Johannah, son Tom and niece Bridget. The home was burned to the ground. Meanwhile, another son was killed at a separate location. Two trials were held. No guilty verdicts were ever handed down.
The Donnellys fled Tipperary, Ireland, in the 1840s to get away from the poverty and violent feuds that infested their homeland, only to find the same misery in Canada. Unable to afford to buy or lease land, the family squatted and built a farm on land they did not own. Many other Irish families had come over as well and settled in the same area of Ontario. They brought the squabbles and troubles of the Old World with them. The Donnellys were Catholic but friendly to Protestants which displeased people on both sides of the religious divide. To say the least, the Donnellys had their share of conflict and stirred up much of it themselves. James Donnelly ended up serving seven years in Kingston Penitentiary for killing another man, in a fight related to a land dispute over the Donnelly`s farm. The Donnelly boys grew up wild and combative, known as the main troublemakers of the region. Accusations of barn burnings and various other forms of sabotage went back and forth between the Donnellys and their neighbours over the years. Many of the neighbours ended up joining the so-called Vigilance Committee that was supposed to help end crime in the community. It was members of the Vigilance Committee that were the primary suspects in the Donnelly killings.
“The ensemble of actors, set in motion by Catalyst choreographer Laura Krewski, is terrific. Sexy, dangerous and tense, they’re men on short fuses.” – Liz Nicholls, Edmonton Journal
Edmonton Journal: Liz Nicholls review: Vigilante a sexy, dangerous rock anthem
“Vigilante builds to a wrenching, violent conclusion that is powerful indeed. And it ends with a heart grabbing anthem that lifts us to heights not felt earlier.” – Colin MacLean, Edmonton Sun
REVIEW in the Edmonton Sun – MacLean: Vigilante a piece of dark history
Preview in The Edmonton Journal – Theatre preview: Vigilante retells lurid tale of the Donnelly massacre
Preview in VUE Weekly – Catalyst theatre unearths a dark chapter of Canadian history in Vigilante
Ici Radio-Canada: Le café show: Un opéra rock sombre : Vigilante, du théâtre Catalyst