The surprise opening of Sharon Pollack’s “Fair Liberty’s Call” promises more than her interesting new history play delivers; the audience stands for “Oh Canada,” only to discover the anthem is part of the sound effects. As they sheepishly sit down again, maple leaves flutter through the fog of the Canadian wilderness, and we feel the threat and excitement of a cherished past about to be deconstructed. But despite gorgeous acting and imaginative direction, stunning visuals and impeccable costumes and props, the script disappoints.
The plot focuses on a Loyalist family, once prominent in Boston but driven into exile, destitution and madness by the rebels during the American Revolution. Two sons have been lost to the war, and when the younger one, Eddie, commits suicide, his twin sister, Emily, picks up his rifle and takes his place.
Another sister saves her own life by confessing to a Rebel that she sent a spy to his death — has she lost the love of her life? The father sacrificed his family to his politics — was his motive greed or survival? The exposition is engaging but the suggestive characters never develop, despite fine performances — especially those by Janet Wright, Philippa Domville and Ted Dykstra.
Pollack’s central question, “Where do you put your eye to find the heartbeat of a country comin’ into being?” remains unanswered. We are offered too many obscure history lessons — it is nearly impossible to keep the battles straight — and the easy solution offered amid more fluttering maple leaves at the conclusion is the handshake between Eddie/Emily and Wullie, the ex-slave. And the context remains so particularly Canadian that, despite its universal and contemporary themes it seems an unlikely export.