Corner Boys know how to 'Party' and 'Mutiny'

Karla Hayward
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Join in, if you dare

Several hundred years ago, servants, like good children, were meant to be seen and not heard. However, it seems no one has filled Maisie, scullery maid at Commissariat House, in on that particular idiom. Far from silent, Maisie will fill your ears with all the good stuff when you meet up with her at "Garden Party," Mary Walsh's current interactive theatrical work.

Written and directed by Walsh in partnership with her CornerBoys Productions partner, Rick Boland, "Garden Party" is set in 1830 and explores the then colony of Newfoundland's quest for responsible government through the eyes of the "downstairs" staff.

From left, Zoe Balsom, Keira Sheppard and April Harvey perform a scene from the play, "The Garden Party," at Commissariat House. - Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Several hundred years ago, servants, like good children, were meant to be seen and not heard. However, it seems no one has filled Maisie, scullery maid at Commissariat House, in on that particular idiom. Far from silent, Maisie will fill your ears with all the good stuff when you meet up with her at "Garden Party," Mary Walsh's current interactive theatrical work.

Written and directed by Walsh in partnership with her CornerBoys Productions partner, Rick Boland, "Garden Party" is set in 1830 and explores the then colony of Newfoundland's quest for responsible government through the eyes of the "downstairs" staff.

But it's no staid stage performance, wrapped in rigid manners and chock full of bowing and scraping. Nope, "Garden Party" takes place up, down and all around Commissariat House itself, and is full of laughs, innuendo and even a physical altercation or two.

Walsh fills in some historical background.

"1830 was a very exciting time in St. John's," she says. " They'd just come out of the Napoleonic Wars, there was lots of money around, lots of new immigration. Gov. Cochrane was here building Government House at that time ... Archbishop Fleming was beginning to think about building the Basilica. There were lots of handsome young officers in town and the place was just throbbing with life."

And, according to Walsh, "Commissariat House was sort of the engine that kept it all going. It took care of the troops; all the army and the navy and the British soldiers in town ... It was kind of the heart of St. John's at that time."

"Garden Party," and its sister show, "Mutiny" (written and directed by Boland), is now in its second summer of performance.

Last year, Walsh says, was "brilliant."

They played to a packed house, often doubling and occasionally tripling performances toward the end of the season.

Characters real and imagined

Several of the show's characters are based on real people, including Archbishop Fleming and reformer and publisher, Patrick Morris.

"At that time, the governor had ultimate say, ultimate power, and Morris is fighting to get power into the hands of the people in Newfoundland," Walsh explains. "And Archbishop Fleming is fighting to get Catholics (to be) allowed to live and practise their faith here."

Walsh says much research was done to flesh out these characters and to bring to life the true spirit of the times.

"Both myself and Rick come out of a long history of writing the entertaining history of this place, through the Mummers, through Codco, through our work with Resource Centre for the Arts. That's our process anyway; to go out and research, interview, come back and improvise and then write the show."

Attendees will also meet a host of other colourful characters, including the Cook, who Walsh explains is "a nativist: those people who said, 'Newfoundland for Newfoundlanders' and have no time for the old country." There's also Miss Cochrane, the Governor's uptight daughter. And of course, there's Maisie, scullery maid and interpreter to show-goers.

Get in on the action

Both Walsh's and Boland's plays are written to allow the adventurous show-goer to actually take on a part in the play. Not that it's mandatory, mind. Wallflowers may purchase their tickets without fear. Says Walsh, "We don't want to frighten people away by saying they have to take part, but they can take part if they like."

And whether you're a joiner or not, Walsh thinks all attendees will have a wonderful time, and maybe even learn a little something about our fair city and its history. "It's probably as close as you can get - unless you build yourself a time machine - to getting back to that day in 1830 in St. John's."

Show times are 4:30 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, until Aug. 31. For show information or reservations, call 743-6265. For more on CornerBoys Productions go to www.cornerboys.ca

Organizations: Garden Party, Commissariat House, Government House Resource Centre

Geographic location: Newfoundland, St. John's

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