In Eastern Front Theatre‘s newest production, author/performer Lindsay Kyte gives viewers a different taste of Cape Breton history. From its onset, Tompkinsville firmly establishes itself in the 1930s town of Reserve Mine where the stark flavour of defeat hangs heavy in the air; men and their families are being oppressed by the almost omnipresent Dominion Company which has no qualms about giving the town inhabitants far less than their fair share.
At the core of this struggle, we find the archetypal characters of Joe Laben and Archie Devison (played by Jeff Schwager and Ian Gilmore, respectively). Joe is reserved and intelligent, aptly recalling and retaining the tomes of literature he consumes. On the opposite end, we have the loud and abrasive Archie who possesses a fondness for the drink. The two leads are strongly written into Kyte’s work, and serve as significant metaphors towards the self-preservation and isolationism adopted by so many to cope with the times. As an audience, we learn that to drink is to reconcile as much as it is used for the escape of trying circumstances.
Not until the arrival of the new unflappable and unorthodox priest, Father Jimmy Tompkins (Lee J. Campbell), does the uphill battle for change begin to take shape. In a town where talk of striking is commonplace, Tompkins proclaims to anyone who will listen that the greatest and most long-term type of reform lies in the utilization of education. The addition of actors Laura Caswell and Kiersten Tough further endow the show with the necessary vehicles for change, with Caswell in particular as Joe’s wife, Mary, providing the spark for the transformation of her husband to become the leader their community needs.
All told, Tompkinsville provides its viewers with a well-acted and solidly written theatrical experience. Songs performed live by Kyte herself, despite being numerous, serve as original narrative devices and a powerful means of conveying feelings expressed by her characters. Schwager dives deep in the show’s second half, evolving Joe into a shining, charismatic, and passionate leader determined to help his family. Gilmore and Campbell infuse their show with welcome humour in addition to moments of honesty and tenderness required in the play’s darker moments. Tough and Caswell provide gumption and vulnerability to their roles, consistently reminding us how much victory comes from behind the scenes from those who believe most in us. Clocking in at just over two and a half hours, Tompkinsville could be a long haul, but thankfully due to the aforementioned reasons the show never plods, nor seems excessive. Whereas it might benefit from a bit more climax and crisis to make the conclusion pay off more, Lindsay Kyte manages to craft a piece of theatre worthy of our attention.