BARB PRATT, Special to The Standard
UXBRIDGE: Maud of Leaskdale is a one-woman play conceived and compiled ten years ago by playwright Conrad Boyce and produced by the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario (LMMSO). Conrad created the play with one actress in mind, Jennifer Carroll, to play the title role.
When he came to Uxbridge to live, Conrad could see the importance of the Leaskdale Manse National Historic Site as a tourist attraction. The Lucy Maud Montgomery Society approached him with an idea for a play about Montgomery herself and her life in Leaskdale which would be appropriate to the Leaskdale surroundings and educational for visitors. The LMMSO agreed to back the play and act as producers.
Conrad delved into Montgomery’s journals, especially those written between 1911 and 1926, the Leaskdale years. In those pages, he found not only the material he was looking for but the author’s own elegantly written entries, her dry wit, and her keen observations. The idea came: use one actress to portray Maud and have her speak Maud’s own words.
Conrad had seen Jennifer Carroll on the stage in Uxbridge and had worked with her in other productions. Even though she was very young and living in Dublin, Ireland, he knew she could be the perfect choice for the part of Maud. As he created the script, choosing excerpts from L.M. Montgomery’s journals and shaping the excerpts into a coherent account of her inner and outer life. He contacted Jennifer to see if she could be interested. Of course, she was.
Jennifer received the script while still in Ireland and saw the potential for an incredible acting opportunity. She set about learning the lines. She found the writing somehow lent itself to being spoken out loud: the words came easily and naturally.
Jennifer’s costume had to be suitable and practical, and it must look like something Maud would have chosen to wear. Denise Randall designed and made the blue two-piece suit and cotton blouse. Debbie Begg designed a beautiful flowered hat,, Maud would certainly have approved.
The very first per-formance of ‘Maud of Leaskdale’ was for a limited audience: the delegates to the LMMSO Inter-national Confer-ence in October 2011. The audience was captivated. Maud’s own turns of phrases, her shared confidences, and her acerbic wit were given voice by an actor who had the confidence and skill to make the character come alive. There were many tears and much laughter throughout the two-hour presentation, and when it was over, there was delighted incredulity, how brilliant the play was, how marvellous the actor, and how did she ever learn all those lines!
The following summer, the play opened in the Historic Leaskdale Church, where Montgomery’s husband, Ewan Macdonald, was minister from 1910 to 1926. As Jennifer spoke her words, it was as if the author had been there in that church all along. Her joys and her sorrows, coming as a bride to the first home she could call her own; the births of her children; the agony of the World War; the death of a stillborn child, Lucy Maud Montgomery was there, describing it all for us. Tears and standing ovations occurred after every single performance. The summer of 2012 was a very hot one, Jennifer’s costume was made of light wool, and there was not yet air conditioning in the church. Jennifer suffered but carried on.
During the following summers, the play continued to be a popular attraction. Word spread, and it drew attention in the local and city press. In 2016 it was performed in Charlottetown before a sold-out audience of delegates to the biennial L.M. Montgomery Conference at the University of Prince Edward Island. 2017 saw Jennifer performing at the Indian River Festival in P.E.I. There were performances in Whitby and Toronto. Audiences were never short of ecstatic.
The most moving performances have been in the small, unadorned country church with the old wooden pews, and now air conditioning, that was Maud’s own, and where her presence lingers.
Ten years on, Jennifer Carroll is almost the same age as the woman she portrays. She has two children, as had Maud. She has matured and deepened. She speaks the same lines but with perhaps even more authority. But every single performance is as fresh and new as the very first one, and every performance draws the same emotional outpouring of gratitude from its audience. The Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario, proprietors of the Leaskdale National Historic Site, present the life of Lucy Maud Montgomery in many ways through tours, demonstrations, talks, and artifacts. But as President Melanie Whitfield says, “The most profound is Jennifer Carroll’s presentation of Maud of Leaskdale.”
Performances of Maud of Leaskdale for 2021 in the Leaskdale Historic Church on August 26th at 7 p.m., August 28th at 3 p.m. And August 29th at 3 p.m.
For more details about ‘Maud of Leaskdale’ and other events at the Leaskdale Manse National Historic Site, visit our website: www.lucymaudmontgomery.ca.