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James Reaney.

Victoria, Press Porcépic, c1983.
Distributed by Beaverbooks.
298pp, paper, $9.95.
ISBN 0-88878-117-2.

Grades 11 and up.
Reviewed by Elaine Balpataky.

Volume 12 Number 3
1984 May

The murder of five members of the Donnelly family of Biddulph township, north of London, Ontario, on February 4, 1880, is a well-known story. It has been the subject of several books, including novels, drama, and non-fiction. James Reaney, poet-dramatist, tells his version of the story in the three plays contained in this volume.

Sticks and Stones concerns the early years of the Donnelly family and their problems in Ireland, which continue in Ontario. When Mr. Donnelly kills his enemy, Jim Fad, at a logging bee, the forces against the Donnellys begin to grow. Defiantly the Donnellys vow never to leave Biddulph. The St. Nicholas Hotel, Wm. Donnelly Prop, portrays the rivalry between the Finnegan Stage line and the Donnelly's Opposition stage. The campaign against the Donnellys intensifies, and their chief antagonist, James Carroll, enters the scene. At the end of the play, Mike Donnelly is murdered. Handcuffs concerns events immediately before and after the murder of the five Donnellys. Politics, the church, as well as existing hatreds all play their part. Several people who have formerly supported the Donnellys turn against them and participate in their murder.

The plays can be difficult reading. The progression of plots is non-linear, with the past, the present, and the future continually intertwining. Moreover, the physical setting, including roads, stagecoaches, and horses, is portrayed by the actors and a few simple props. Time is frequently indicated by a chorus, which both comments on and participates in the action. All this can be confusing, but it permits a complex and meaningful portrayal of people and events not otherwise possible. Reality is ever present in the form of names, dates, records of trials, and the knowledge on the part of the audience or reader that these were real people and that these events really happened.

This book is a must for libraries that do not have the three plays in separate editions. Even for those who do, the one-volume format is convenient, and the scholarly apparatus, useful. James Noonan has written a foreword, a concluding essay, and has provided a chronology of important dates, as well as a glossary.

Portions of these plays could be used very effectively for classroom dramatization. Most students would find it difficult, however, to read the trilogy in its entirety. Nevertheless, the plays represent an important contribution to Donnelly lore and a significant contribution to Canadian drama. As such, they deserve a place in every collection.

Elaine Balpataky, Ingersoll D. C. I., Ingersoll, ON.
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