Anyone who grew up in Toronto has been on at least one school field trip to historic Fort York. You’ve smelled the horseshit, eaten the biscuits, and probably watched some corny performance by someone in a costume telling you how things used to be in the olden days. So it might be tempting to dismiss Crate Productions‘ new play The Fort at York as an educational play, or worse, historical reenactment. This would be a mistake. The site-specific play, directed by Tara Beagan and Chris Reynolds (pictured), is set the night before the War of 1812’s Battle of York, which decimated the original fort, but the focus is on personal relations rather than military ones.
During the show, audiences are split into groups and led around various parts of the fort to watch different scenes, which seem at first connected only by location, but gradually form a cohesive story. But if you thought similarly-styled The Gladstone Variations was somewhat mercenary in making you go twice to get the whole story, worry not. Everyone gets to see everything, or at least everything important, in The Fort at York. The play presents a rather ragtag group of people standing guard at the fort; soldiers may be plain stupid or, as several seem to be, somewhat crazy, including the private who has the ability to see the future, which means he not only looks at and addresses the audience, but also the Toronto skyline and the Gardiner Expressway. This means that as an audience member, you don’t have to pretend that you can’t see them too, and also allows for modern-day comparisons to be drawn to the political situation of 1812, which featured an aggressive, war-hungry United States and a Canada trying not to be swallowed up.
The largest subplot in the show involves a small conspiracy to sneak one woman who is married to a somewhat unhinged private out of the fort and to safety in the middle of the night. It provides a nice through line for the piece, which might otherwise seem disconnected. The cast really are all strong in this play, although it seems worth drawing attention to Michael Wheeler’s performance as the previously-mentioned unhinged Private Everett Thomas. The monologue that he delivers telling his life story is completely spellbinding.
The Fort at York makes for a night of theatre that is truly fun and different. And who knows? You just might learn a few things about the history of this city along the way.