On October 25th my peers and I took the golden opportunity to see the final dress rehearsal of Michael Melski’s Corvette Crossing, presented by Eastern Front Theatre. It’s a play about the vital role of the lowly corvette in the Royal Canadian Navy in the Second World War, replete with unforgettable characters, authentic but not overbearing jargon, and the great responsibilities of bravery and sacrifice – all in an intimate space.
You first notice that the set is Spartan, but you find that the changes in elevation provide the effect of the variegated decks of a corvette. It’s perfect because the austerity of the stage makes us see the characters all the more vividly in their laughter and (more often) terror.
You sit down, the play begins. You laugh at Christopher Shore’s masterful, subtly comic portrayal of a Francophone sub-lieutenant. You’ve never heard of the (fictitious) HMCS Larkspur, but it sounds like one of the many ignominious, diminutive ships named after similarly diminutive Canadian towns. At the end of the Second World War, the Royal Canadian Navy was the third-largest in the world, largely consisting of proud vessels with humorous names like the HMCS Asbestos (Québec: 2006 population 6,645).
But don’t let my indulgence in nomenclatural jest fool you; this is a serious play. In fact, the emphasis on hometowns is appropriate, because the crew members bring their hometowns on the voyage. Issues like homesickness, independence, comradeship, faith, bravery and sacrifice make up the dramatic landscape. The dramatic space is tightly constrained (the Alderney Landing Theatre seats a privileged 285) and in the tension of uncertainty and fear we watch the character’s colourful and ultimately honourable personalities bounce off one another. Should you find the justification for this brilliantly crafted anxiety murky, let me add this: If you think you have friends, try hanging out with them on a glorified tin can floating in the fog on the North Atlantic, surrounded by U-boats.
The ending, when you get there, is open, in the sense of it not being spelled out and indicated with flashing amber warning lights. We asked each other, “Do you think…?” as we walked through the exits, having been stunned by this breathtaking theatre experience.
Barring an extended run (which would be merited), Corvette Crossing will play until November 12th. If you’re looking for a substitute for seeing Corvette Crossing (not that there is one), pick up a copy of Timothy Findley’s The Wars. A different war, a different battlefield, but the message and the tragedy are analogous. After your bombardment, you may think, “why am I not wearing a poppy?” I ashamedly, inexcusably am not, but I’ll pick one up as soon as I see one.
~ William Matheson