Volume 6 Week 46

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(Posted 3:30 p.m., Oct. 2)

Play about McGonigle murders both powerful and poignant
By Fred Sherwin
Orleans Online

Julia McGonigle, played by Sarah Benfield, beseeches her husband James, played by Nick Dubus, to find their two missing daughters during the Vintage Stock Theatre production of ‘Outrage: The McGonigle Murders’. Fred Sherwin/Photo


While many people may think that abductions and child murderers are by and large phenomenons born out of the latter part of the 20th century, the sad truth of the matter is that they have been around since the dawn of time.

“Outrage: The McGonigle Murders”, being presented this month at the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum by the Vintage Stock Theatre company, tells the story of the 1890 abduction and murder of Mary and Eliza McGonigle in the peaceful rural community of Cumberland Village.

The two girls, age 12 and 14, went missing while walking home from school on a wet and dreary October evening. Their father, thinking that they had stayed over at a friend’s house to avoid the storm, didn’t notify the authorities until late the next day.

That same evening, they were found lying side by side not far from the road home from school. Autopsies revealed that the girls had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death.

By the next day, a drifter named Narcisse Larocque had been arrested and charged with the girls’ murder based on eye witness accounts that put him in the same vicinity of the crime at about the same time it occurred. The only other evidence as a boot print that matched one of Larocque’s boots.

After a short trial in L’Orignal during which his lawyer presented a token defence, he was hung in the L’Orignal jail and buried in the jail yard.

“Outrage: The McGonigle Murders” tells the story of the events surrounding the murders, the reaction of the community afterwards and the subsequent trial and hanging through a series of six vignettes acted out by lamplight on the museum grounds.

In the first scene the audience is introduced to John Radclive, Ontario’s only professional hang man at the time, who was assigned the task of dispatching criminals like Larocque.

Radclive is played wonderfully by Scott Kristjanson who is making his theatrical debut in the production.

It is Kristjanson’s job to set the mood of the play which he does extremely well. After the opening scene the audience is lead to the church where a crowd has already assembled outside.

James and Julia McGonigle, played by Nick Dubus and Sarah Benfield, are frantic to find their daughters. Nightfall has already set in and a large search party has been formed.

Not long after the search party sets out, a large scream pierces the night signaling that the girls’ bodies have been found.

In the third scene, James and Julia McGonigle learn of their daughters’ fate. Julia McGonigle is completely distraught as one might imagine. The audience also finds out that the McGonigles had lost four of their children to black diptherea just two years before.

During an exchange between the police constable and the village doctor, Ben Bernard, who is described as a half-wit and a simpleton comes forward saying that he saw a man walking down the road shortly after the girls were killed.

The man he describes is Larocque, who worked with James McGonigle and ate in the McGonigle household.

The next scene is outside the coroner’s inquest. Several of the town’s people and other hangers on are demanding that Larocque be handed over to them so they can kill him themselves and spare the need for a trial.

The fifth scene which takes place several months later, is perhaps the most powerful. Julia McGonigle has had another daughter and has named her Mary. She tells an astonished neighbour that she plans to have yet another daughter and call her Eliza.

At the outset of the scene the neighbour, Margaret Cochrane, questions how God could have taken the daughters after he had already claimed the McGonigles’ other four children.

Then Julia McGonigle explains that her new baby was sent to her by Mary and Eliza. “She’s a gift from my two angels,” she tells her neighbour.

The final scene is given a glimpse of what the trial was like followed by the guilty verdict and Larocque’s denouement.

“Outrage: The McGonigle Murders” is powerful play that will have you questioning the degree to which any of us are safe in our own communities as well as how we might react if we were caught up in the same set of circumstances either as a parent, or a member of small community like Cumberland Village.

But what makes the play even more poignant is the fact that the events are historically true, right down to much of the dialogue which was taken from newspaper accounts of the day.

The play’s director and writer, Susan Flemming has once again done a marvelous job in presenting a dramatically presentation of a piece of local history which many residents who are relatively new to the area have never heard of before. But she couldn’t have pulled it off without a wonderful cast.

Dubus and Benfield were superb as the distraught parents as was Kristjanson, who I already mentioned earlier. Dan Smythe, who has been in more Vintage Stock productions than I can count, also did a great job as Benjamin Bernard, as did Reid Delong who played Constable Lavergne.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by Vintage Stock Theatre veteran Richard Marquis as John Gamble, John Cook as Dr. Ferguson, Micheline Mathon as Margaret Cochrane, Émilie Perron-Clow as Cozey McCallum, Paul Sales as D.B. McLennan, Hayden Smith as Albert Constantineau and André Dimitrijevic as the judge. But my favourite performance of them all was delivered by young Tyler Smith who played James Cochrane.

I’ve seen maybe three or four plays with Smith in the cast and he has stood out in everyone of them. He’s talented, incredibly self-assured for someone so young, and he has a very bright future ahead of him.

“Outrage: The McGonigle Murders” is on this Friday and Saturday night at the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum starting at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 each available at the door.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

 

 

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