REVIEW: Sultry summer night, scary bedtime story on stage at Blyth Festival

Tiffany Martin and Meghan Swaby as twin sisters in The Devil We Know. Photo by Terry Manzo

Jennifer Cox is a communications graduate from the University of Windsor who is now a computer trainer for the Avon Maitland District School Board. She lives in Clinton with her husband and two children. She writes when she can find the time. This summer, she is reviewing Huron Country Playhouse and The Blyth Festival for Bullet News Huron.


The Devil We Know, by husband and wife team Cheryl Foggo and Clem Martini, premiered last night at the Blyth Festival. This is the final Blyth Festival main stage production for the 2012 season and the farewell effort by Artistic Director Eric Coates, who is leaving for his new post at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa.

It is 1944 in Regina, and teenage twin sisters Verna and Vivian, played by Meghan Swaby and Tiffany Martin, belong to one of the few Black families in the community. They are home alone for a night while the rest of the family sends off one of the brothers, who has enlisted in the Canadian army. Verna and Vivian must stay home as Vivian has polio and is not well enough to travel. An aunt is supposed to stay with them but Verna, the more outspoken twin, insists they will be fine alone. Martin and Swaby kept me in suspense wondering when the real scare on stage was going to come and just how things were going to end up for them. I would have enjoyed more contrast in the volume level of the actors’ voices as I think it would have contributed more to the suspense.

Verna and Vivian are as alike as hot and cold. Verna is impulsive, tough and dramatic and cannot wait to get out of Regina. She seems to be the protector of the siblings, she is always the one to rub her sisters afflicted leg. She not only watches out for her other siblings, she fights right along with them, and does not stand for any racist name calling from the neighbourhood white kids.

Vivian is much more of the “good girl,” sensitive, frail because of the polio, worried about getting her homework done, more soft spoken and calm. She doesn’t want anyone to make a fuss over her and is thrilled beyond belief with little things like the simple gift from her father of a new robe. She is not able to participate fully in the world outside her bedroom and relies heavily on her siblings to keep her informed as her parents would rather keep her sheltered and protected.

The twins are at different stages of youth. While Verna is ready to move on into teenage life, and worried about “not being the last one kissed at youth group,” Vivian is obsessed with reading Anne of Green Gables, play acting with her Anne doll and trying to speak as Anne did, much to her sister’s disgust.

Both Swaby and Martin were authentic in their roles as twins who can be the best of friends but always with the underlying sadness and frustration of dealing with Vivian’s illness. Martin was especially convincing as a girl wanting to be normal, not having to be protected all the time but also with a mature acceptance that this could be for the rest of her life.

The play has some eerie music, lighting and effects to contribute to the suspense: a moonlit night, a scarf placed over a bedside table lamp, and a breeze eerily blowing the curtain in the girls’ bedroom. The sound however was not over done, a few well selected clips of traditional country bluegrass and towards the end of the play a loud collection of sounds that took me a second to realize it was the sounds of someone tearing apart a house from the inside.

The girls’ night alone involves scary stories about a recent violent murder in the town, strange noises, doing hair and talking about boys, and it also shows the tension between the girls. Vivian is tired of being “poor” Vivian and she is worried that she is holding her sister back. Her sister is torn between caring greatly for Vivian and being sick and tired of playing second fiddle to her sister’s disease.

I kept waiting for something to happen that first night the girls are alone…I will only say that it doesn’t happen until the next day.

Tony Munch plays Walter, the derelict homeless man obsessed with finding something that he has heard is hidden in the girls’ home. Walter has had some tough breaks and is desperate to find this hidden treasure in order to make a fresh start. He sees a kind of kindred spirit in Vivian, who has also had a tough break. I was impressed with Munch’s ability to transition between Walter’s unpredictable mood swings, from lighthearted to psycho serious, hanging on to reality by a thread. I was almost convinced when he first walked into Vivian’s room, startled by her presence, that he really was there to clean the eave troughs for her Dad, just like he said.

I was surprised with the way that Verna ends up involved in Walter’s hostage taking/home invasion but I won’t ruin it for you.  Things do get physical and bloody but despite all of this violence there is still some humour to lighten things up. It can’t be easy to pull off a thriller on stage complete with blood and weapons. I thought the final fighting scenes were as well done as could be expected on a stage.

If you’re ready for some action, drama and suspense on the stage, The Devil We Know runs until Sept. 1.

For more information, please visit online or call 1-877-862-5984.

The Devil We Know is sponsored by Ideal Supply.  Media Sponsor is 104.9 the Beach. The 2012 Season Sponsor is Sparling’s Propane Company Limited and the Season Media Sponsor is CTV.

Written by on August 4, 2012 in Entertainment and Arts, Jennifer Cox - No comments

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