Choose, But Choose Wisely: I never thought a war could be so much fun!

Choose, But Choose Wisely
An 1812 Play
Written and directed by Jeff Culbert
Commissioned by Sheila Johnson    
Directed by Jeff Culbert
Location: Fanshawe Pioneer Village
With Josh Cottrell (Keezheekoni), Harry Edison (Daniel Springer), Erin Flanigan (Elizabeth Applegarth), Jason Rip (Andrew Westbrook), David Walker (Joshua Applegarth)
July 16-18; 23-25 (7:30-9 p.m.)
Book on-line at EventBrite.com or at www.fanshawepioneervillage.ca.

Choose, But Choose Wisely is set in this area of Upper Canada during the War of 1812. As we all know, this was a war with our neighbours to the South. It was the only war ever fought on Canadian soil.

The characters of Choose, But Choose Wisely are also neighbours, and are based on real people living in this area at the time of the war. Some of them choose opposing sides of this conflict, pitting neighbor against neighbor, and we view the events and outcomes of the war from their points of view.

"Choose, But Choose Wisely", is a quote from the ‘offer’ given to Upper Canadian settlers by General Hull, the commander of Fort Detroit, just after the Americans declared war. General Hull’s offer basically consisted of a threat: join us (become Americans) or be exterminated. At the time, the majority of the British forces were busy fighting Napoleon’s army in Europe, leaving the sparsely populated colonies of Upper Canada to fend for themselves. Because of this, the General’s over-confidence may be understandable, but then again, one thing the Americans have never lacked is confidence.

The story unfolds over the span of the war in a clear and easily understood manner. But this is not just an interesting history lesson, the characters are fully fleshed people with intertwining relationships and stories of their own set against the backdrop of the war.

Erin Flanagan’s performance as a young wife in love with her husband was playful, saucy, and thoroughly charming. David Walker, as Elizabeth’s husband Joshua, brought an air of quiet strength to his character.

By turns riveting, charismatic, and quite funny (in a slightly goofy way) Josh Cottrell was mesmerizing as Keezheekoni.

Jason Rip’s portrayal of the defecting Andrew Westbrook spoke of the rivalry, respect, optimism, and the singularly capitalistic attitude that portrays our communal Canadian idea of what the United States of America is all about.

Daniel Springer/Wasabah was a Captain of the Middlesex Militia when war was declared and is played as an amicable, but canny, leader by Harry Edison.

Several songs were also sung with great performances by the players.

The song that was to become the American national anthem is heard by Keezheekoni being sung in the background at the battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore (‘it’s a good song,’ he says, holding a rifle aimed at the singers). I looked it up and was very interested to read that “The Star Spangled Banner” was in fact penned by Francis Scott Key on Sept. 14,1814 – the dawn of the morning after the battle, in Baltimore. The poem was originally called ‘The Defense of Fort McHenry’ and was set to the tune of ‘To Anacreon in Heaven’ (an 18th century British melody). Is it wrong that I think it’s kind of cool that two of the most important cultural icons of the United States of America (the National Anthem and The White House) were created in reaction to clashes with us?  

I went with my son and his friend (ages 20, and 17) and wasn’t sure if the boys would be very interested in a play with no actual gunfire, car chases or pyrotechnics. I am pleased to report that both young men were fascinated by the stories, the characters, the music and the ability of the actors to completely ignore flies lighting on their noses. This is a great show for all ages.

The old saying, “good fences make good neighbours” is borne out by the only clear outcome of the war; borders re-drawn and agreed to by treaty. The Americans have been our good friends and neighbours ever since. This story of neighbours tells the bigger story with humanity, wit, and humour.

A great cast with a sterling script, Choose, But Choose Wisely is the most fun you’ll ever have in a war zone.

If you go: Keep in mind that the play is enacted in a barn – no air conditioning, so dress appropriately for the weather. The evening I attended was very hot and there were a few black flies buzzing about (which did not distract me from the play – that’s how good it was!). The play runs an hour and a half with no intermission.  the bathroom, if need be, before you get seated.Seating is on wooden benches, with no backs.  You may want to bring a cushion and a folding fan (nothing noisy please!).

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Jamie-Lee Wilson is a closet novelist and huge fan of live theatre.

Photos by Terry Fieldhouse

 


The Arts Project - Theatre