The play that didn’t give up

SKYE GLEN: After being stopped short last year due to public health restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic, a play with a local historic flare is hitting the stage once again for two shows in Glendale.

The Rèiteach, which is a play written by Brenda MacLennan-Dunphy and presented by the West Side Performing Arts Co-operative (WESPAC), is based on a true story of a rèiteach, a traditional Scottish way of arranging a marriage, which took place in the West Bay area.

WESPAC is pleased to announce they will be coming back together to put on a new version at the Glendale Hall on Saturday, May 14 with a 2 p.m. matinee and a 7 p.m. show.

“We want an audience that gets the joke and gets the experience of our history,” MacLennan-Dunphy told The Reporter. “It’s nice to bring something to the small halls and warm it up a little bit and give them some attention.”

It was a story that would be regularly told by the late local historian Jim St. Clair, and is also familiar family folklore for many of the descendants of the story’s characters, MacLennan-Dunphy said.

“If you had any genealogical or historical questions, Jim was the person to go to,” she said. “He had a CBC show out of Sydney, he had a weekly article… and he taught in Mabou for many years as a history teacher, he was just a well-respected and well-known guy.”

MacLennan-Dunphy, who was born in Melford and currently lives in Skye Glen, is a substitute teacher who has written books and play. She said she is trying to develop a local creative group.

Last summer’s performances, which sold out almost instantly due to the fact there were limited tickets and people were hungry for the return of live theatre, was supposed to hit the Glendale Hall, the Mabou Hall, and the Whycocomagh Waterfront Centre.

“It was a ticket that was well sought after. The one in Whycocomagh we had to close down, because COVID came to Port Hawkesbury and that was it,” MacLennan-Dunphy said. “It felt as a cast we didn’t get to celebrate the end of it. It’s always nice to reflect and have a social time to have a few laughs, because in live theatre there are always points that were great or where something was missed.”

MacLennan-Dunphy advised the term rèiteach was taken from page 20 of the fifth issue of the Cape Breton Magazine, which was issued on July 1, 1973. The last recorded rèiteach on Cape Breton was when Sandy Kenny Morrison of Wreck Cove asked fo the hand of Rhoda MacDonald of Skir Dhu in 1923.

“A rèiteach is said to be an espousal, held before the banns of marriage are proclaimed and sometimes considered as important as the wedding itself,” she said. “It was a formal way of asking for a young woman’s hand, clearing the ground as to would there be a marriage, who would perform the ceremony, and where the couple would live; making certain that everyone involved was satisfied with the arrangements.”

In MacLellan-Dunphy’s version, characters Big Jim Johnson and his bride to be Mary Smith are played by Kyle MacDonald and Bridget Wilson respectfully, with a total of 12 cast members.

“This Johnson man from Rear Lake Ainslie came across on the ice down through Whycocomagh and down to the West Bay area, to a little island off West Bay and there was a rèiteach between him and Mary Smith,” she said. “And when the agreements were all finished, some guy who really liked Mary Smith had come over to the party and he proposed to Mary at the dance and they eloped, they got out of the house, went across the ice towards Arichat to get married.”

MacLennan-Dunphy said this led to Big Jim putting the moves on somebody else, who was engaged to another man, and they took off from the party to get married as well.

“And the story is the couples met on the ice and had a drink,” MacLennan-Dunphy said. “It was a bit of a British farce with lots of things going on, and I always thought it was a great story.”

Prior to his death on May 11, 2021, MacLennan-Dunphy asked St. Clair to write down the bare bones of the story, which she then turned into the play.

“Then it was kind of funny, I had a couple groups come in to read it through with me to make sure it made sense and the second time, my friend goes ‘I know Mary Smith, she was my great, great grandmother,’” MacLennan-Dunphy said. “The first time we did a read though of the play we did it in West Bay and so many people knew the story well, were very keen to see it represented, and are glad to see that it is a story that’s been passed on.”

Some of the original cast members couldn’t finish the run, as different things have come up in their lives but with the cast she has now, MacLennan-Dunphy thinks they’re going to finish with a bang.

“I think we’re going to have some fun and it will feel like we’re finishing our run now,” she said. “It’ll be nice to feel like we’ve done it justice.”

As for why she wanted to tell the story, MacLennan-Dunphy said it was just so full of history.

“It’s just something we never knew about in the Scottish culture. It’s an interesting perspective; it allows us to put some of the characters and the sayings that are going by the wayside,” MacLennan-Dunphy said. “There’s a lot of humor in that situation, it’s a fun play to do; it’s just trying not to laugh when you’re on stage, that’s the thing, but rehearsal is the time to work through that.”

People can get tickets by emailing: wespac2021@gmail.com, they’re available at Brook Village Grocery, by calling 902-756-3077, and tickets will also be available at the door.