Wishful Seeing makes world premiere at 4th Line Theatre in August

·3 min read

“Wishful Seeing,” by playwright Maja Ardal, is making its world premiere at Millbrook’s 4th Line Theatre next month.

Based on Janet Kellough’s novel, the play tells the story of travelling saddlebag preacher Thaddeus Lewis, who is thrust into the centre of a murder mystery after a body is discovered on Rice Lake in 1853. While Lewis embarks on an anguished quest for truth and justice, drama ensues as railway mania consumes locals looking to cash in on the Cobourg-Peterborough rail line.

Drawing from historical events and Murdoch Mysteries-esque fiction, the play explores themes of religious melancholy, the pitfalls of small-town gossip and the clash between Old World faith and greed.

4th Line Theatre’s managing artistic director Kim Blackwell is directing the summer production. After “devouring” the novel in 2016, Blackwell knew the story had to be told at the Winslow Farm.

“I thought to myself, this is the perfect 4th Line story,” recalled Blackwell.

On the heels of Ardal’s “The Hero of Hunter Street,” a “wildly” successful 4th Line production, Blackwell said the playwright was her “first and only” choice to adapt the story.

“(Ardal) really understands how to write for this space and for this audience. She takes the essence of the novel while expanding it and bringing in other elements,” Blackwell said.

“She walks a really beautiful razor’s edge between the comedy and the tragedy of the story,” she continued.

As 4th Line celebrates its 30th anniversary, Wishful Seeing is this year’s second summer production following the premiere of “The Great Shadow” in June, which marked the return of live audiences post-pandemic. While shows are selling out, Blackwell said attendance is down slightly from 2019 — a trend she expected.

“I think we’re in a recovery period of a few years and that’s just fine. Audiences are coming back. I think we are so lucky to be ideally suited for people to feel safe because we’re outdoors,” Blackwell said.

Wishful Seeing will see 4th Line’s founder and creative director Robert Winslow return to the summer stage for the first time since 2018, when he performed in “Crow Hill: the Telephone Play.”

Any trepidation Winslow may have felt going into the post-COVID production quickly dissolved once rehearsals began.

“I thought when we started we’d be more nervous being around each other (due to COVID), but as soon as we began the process I completely forgot about that,” he said.

Delving into Lewis’ character has been both challenging and rewarding for Winslow. To play Lewis — a flawed and complex character — it was important for Winslow to tap into his relatable and redeemable qualities.

“It took me a while to warm up to him. But with acting, you can’t be too certain with anything. You always have to have the openness to be in the moment,” he said.

Local mainstay Megan Murphy plays the role of Mrs. Small, the town gossip. While Murphy has been a close collaborator with 4th Line for years, Wishful Seeing marks her first full summer production.

“It’s kind of a childhood dream,” Murphy said.

Growing up watching 4th Line plays and adoring “Anne of Green Gables,” Murphy is relishing the role — and the hoop skirt costumes she gets to wear.

Murphy is excited to get back on stage.

“After a few years of being starved of it, I hope audiences come away feeling like they’re part of a little bit of magic.”

“Wishful Seeing,” scored by multi-instrumentalist Justin Hiscox, runs from Aug. 2 to 27, Tuesdays to Saturdays at 6 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at 4thlinetheatre.on.ca, toll-free at 705-932-4445 and at the box office at 4 Tupper St.

Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him at bburke@metroland.com.

Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner

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