Queen Milli of Galt is a bitter-sweet and charming and lovely play about love and duty.
I was mentioning to my companion on the walk home after the preview performance at the Walterdale (shoutout to the Alberta Society of Artists for the invitation) that because I’ve spent so much more time reading plays than actually going to performances, I’m always looking with two eyes (even though only one of my physical eyes actually works): one is examining the text; the other is observing the one-of-a-kind phenomenon on the stage.
Queen Milli of Galt is lovely and charming to both of those eyes. I would love it as a play to read quietly at home. And the phenomenon of it on stage in the loving hands of the volunteer denizens of the Walterdale is utterly charming and lovely. And beautifully tragic.
Whatever the actual, historical relationship between Millicent Milroy of Galt, Ontario, Canada, and Edward, Prince of Wales, future King Edward VIII, and even further future Edward, Duke of Windsor, in the play, two young people find a moment of happiness before being shoved into a lifetime of memory. At the beginning of the play, in an inscription on a stone, and at the end, in the gift of a small piece of cutlery, the two young people, now old, each make their own stand for their youthful love over society’s absurd duty. No spoilers.
In the Walterdale production:
Stephanie O’Neill as Milli is vibrantly strong and beautifully gentle, even in her many moments of bitterness, sorrow, exhaustion, and total-fed-upness. Milli is the heart of the piece and O’Neill makes her live. As the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge nears, I found O’Neill’s telling of Milli’s hopeless yet hopeful fantasy narrative of the return of Jonathan, her first love, lost to the trenches of the Great War, particularly moving.
Owen Emblau as Edward is insufferable at first – to himself as well, I believe – but the royal shell soon cracks and a vulnerable, warm, living, flawed little butterfly comes out. I always kind of figured Edward VIII (in real life) to be a philandering, self-centered foppish fellow with no sense of duty who didn’t want to be king anyway. But Emblau, while nodding to all that, makes Edward a much more sympathetic man, more than a bit childlike, and, in the end, doomed by a sense of duty he wants nothing of.
Bob Klakowich’s Godfrey is an hilarious Stephen Fry to Emblau’s Hugh Laurie, or a Jeeves to Emblau’s Wooster — which amounts to the same thing. Godfrey suffers long, knows his duty, but doesn’t hesitate to roll his eyes.
Lauren Tamke as Milli’s worldly friend Mona is spot on. She flamboyantly fills the stage when it’s her place, but knows the main event is the love story.
Anne-Marie Smyth as Milli’s mother is hilarious, but, like Tamke, is quick to step aside — or step in, in one instance — when the main current of the drama returns.
As usual, the Walterdale Crew have done a remarkable job on the technical side. Geri Dittrich and Karin Lauderdale’s costumes for the women are exquisite and the men’s ones (generally shabbier in real life) aren’t too shabby. And the set design by Jim Herchak and the set painting by Joan Hawkins and Kimberly North are beautifully compact and simply detailed. I love that Master Builder Richard Hatfield arranged for Milli’s garden to have actual soil in it that could be exuberantly dug with trowel and hands.
If I were to complain about anything on the technical side it would be that the voices of the children in the schoolroom scene come from offstage left rather than the direction to which the actors reacted. But I don’t know the technical challenges of placing speakers in – or under – the audience.
Queen Milli of Galt at the Walterdale is, as I said, a bitter-sweet and charming and lovely play. Go see it.
Queen Milli of Galt plays at the Walterdale Playhouse, 10322 83 Avenue, from April 5-15, 2017. The performance runs about two hours including a fifteen minute introduction.
Full disclosure: I like the Walterdale. I’ve liked the Walterdale for a long time. I liked the Walterdale even before the Walterdale chose for its Cradle to Stage Festival my little old play about a strong woman abandoned by every man in her life who decided his duty to society was more important than his love for her. So, now I have a bit of a more personal connection to the Walterdale Theatre, but that’s not going to make me shut up when I see something really worthwhile on the stage at Edmonton’s wonderful Little Community Theatre That Could.