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Theatre Orangeville’s Things My Fore-Sisters Saw: review

March 10, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield 

A lot of history never makes it into the school classrooms. We need, therefore, to be grateful to those actors who perform history in the theatre and fill in what has been missed. Leslie McCurdy is certainly one to whom that thanks is owed with her show Things My Fore-Sisters Saw, on now at Theatre Orangeville, running until Sunday’s matinee.

This one-woman play was written and is performed entirely by Leslie McCurdy. She does justice to the four people she portrays by her considerable talent and her sincere passion. This is a skillfully assembled collection of four separate stories about Canadian history and there is even a Q and A afterwards.

All of it, including the pro- and epilogues is acted but all of it is true, for Leslie McCurdy it has been quite thorough in her research. The facts brought to light with each life story ring in our minds as only truth does. 

In the beginning, she presents her credentials, as it were, of her own life as a Black female in Canada where she was born. The audience needs to understand the birth of this work of art as well as the how and why she relates the lives that she does. 

To excellent effect, Ms. McCurdy dresses for each “Sister”, using songs like punctuation while she changes her costumes on stage between tales.

Who are these people missing from the history books but important to know?

Marie-Joseph Angélique’s story is truly tragedy on a grand scale, of a very young woman born in the early 1700’s in Madeira, Portugal, who came as a slave to the home of a merchant in Montreal. At that time slavery was fully part of this new world’s culture. 

Later denied her freedom by his widow, Angélique was so enraged, she reportedly threatened to take her freedom back by burning down the house where they lived. A fire destroyed a large area of Montreal sometime after that; did Angélique start it?

What follows marks a more important note in Canadian history than one might have expected.

Rose Fortune was born in the States in the 1770’s and came to Canada, to Nova Scotia when she was ten. She blazed a trail for all women with her wisdom and – must have been her charisma – becoming a successful business woman and a constable. Ms. McCurdy’s presentation of this remarkable woman’s life is entertaining and very uplifting.

This is an abrupt switch from Angélique’s dark tale into Rose’s sagacity, dodging the social perils coming from the States and how she earned her successes.

Mary Ann Shadd was the first Black woman in North America to publish a newspaper. This she did in Windsor, Ms. McCurdy’s home town. Mary Ann Shadd’s story is about her life as a Black woman, as a journalist, teacher and more in the 1800’s. Here too comes the saga of a woman who has been told the things she can’t do as a Black woman by convention and fashion. She disdains it all and sets the bar high. No one tells this tale better than Leslie McCurdy as she drops one persona for the next. 

Slavery ended in Canada in 1834, at the same time as Great Britain.

One may not remember or even know the name Viola Desmond, born in 1914 in Halifax but we have seen her face on our ten-dollar bill. In this production, we learn why she deserves to be there. Ms. McCurdy invites her audience to sit in on a “press conference” of questions and answers with Viola Desmond in order to understand how she changed sociological policy in Canada. An entrepreneur, Viola Desmond unexpectedly began her life in civil rights with a debate about where she should sit in the local cinema.

Everything about this production is excellent. Perhaps, its greatest virtue is the enlightenment Ms. McCurdy delivers about Canadian history and how remnants of that still exist in our present day. Her vivacity and realistic approach to the ladies she portrays transport them right into this 21st Century, where many of the same battles continue to be fought. Attention to the details of the lives Leslie McCurdy brings to life, creates those ladies as close to real memories as if they stood truly on the stage.

Basic props and lighting are the perfect background for a complicated and inspiring show. That Ms. McCurdy talks to us for a straight hour is impressive, given the high value of what she is saying.

There are moments of revelations throughout these short histories that reflect badly on Canada but by the end, she praises the progress made in this country: her home and her final words define how proud she is of that progress.

There are only four performances left of this tremendous show, including tonight (Thursday). Rush tickets can be available. For all the details and to purchase tickets, go to or call the helpful people at the box office at 519-942-3423.

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