The Massey Murder, Theatre Erindale’s second show of the season, tells the story of Carrie Davies, a woman who worked for the prestigious Massey family in Toronto during World War I. Davies shot her master, Charles Massey, in February 1915. She testified that he sexually assaulted her and pleaded not guilty, and her story unfolded against the backdrop of the war. Always looking for a good story, newspapers quickly latched onto Davies and she became a popular topic.
The second show of the season is always the third-year class’s collective as well as their Theatre Erindale debut. In the words of company member Emma Robson, “It’s like our baby.” This is no surprise, since The Massey Murder was written and created by the class under the direction of Meredith Scott and with the additional expertise of movement and dance instructor Sarah-Jane Burton.
I was first astounded by the complexity of the plot. In most plays, it’s possible to identify two or sometimes three plotlines, but The Massey Murder approaches storytelling from a more ambitious angle. Although the main story centres on the crime itself and Davies’s trial, the plot is highly layered. Other storylines include the (somewhat) honest and accurate newspaper coverage, the ongoing war in Europe, women’s rights and lack thereof, and the other characters involved in the trial. Everyone has a voice in The Massey Murder: Charles Massey’s grieving wife, the Masseys’ next-door neighbour, the women living next to Davies in jail, Carrie, her lawyer, the reporter taking Davies’s side during the trial, and so on.
The cast chose to approach The Massey Murder from a non-judgemental standpoint. Throughout, it was never stated whose side I was meant to take or who was right or wrong in their actions. This confusion was especially well articulated in one of the final scenes, just before the jury’s conclusion on the case was announced. The whole cast, sitting onstage in their courtroom configuration, broke out of character to jump into a lively and opinionated debate about where they stood personally amid all the information they have gathered about the facts of the murder.
Aesthetically, the production was beautiful. The thrust stage, which places the audience on two sides, gave the company plenty of room to move around. The central entrance had doors with bars that, when closed, made a jail cell. Two staircases climbed up and around the barred doors, ending in a platform directly above the central entrance. This also provided levels and projection space on the walls behind.
Projections were effectively used to highlight elements of the action onstage and close the time between scenes. These included pictures of the people who, though dead in the real world, were being portrayed onstage; settings where the action took place, including courthouses and public halls; and perhaps most importantly, headlines detailing news from the trial and the front. I found myself eagerly awaiting news from this particular source, wanting very badly to find out how this story was going to end.
One scene that struck me more than others had Davies (Kyra Weichert) going about her day washing floors, ironing, and preparing dinner, all while constantly followed by Massey (Isaac Giles) as he interrupted her and she attempted to avoid him. This scene was underscored by haunting music. What made this moment particularly engaging was the addition of a third actor (Emma Robson), who interpreted Davies’s emotional state through movement and dance. What fascinated me was the difference between what Carrie as a character could express outwardly compared to what was going on inside.
The Massey Murder cast also hosts some impressive multifaceted talent, featuring several musicians and singers, as well as original music. Scenes that had their foundations in music were effective because they were surprising: around every twist in The Massey Murder was something I did not expect. Especially since songs were composed especially for this production, they moved the plot as much as any scene, only with a different pace and energy.
My final commendation to the cast and director of The Massey Murder is their commitment to making this piece a collective. No one actor was any more or less important than another, and I felt throughout the performance that each actor gave his or her full energy to telling this strange and complex story.
The Massey Murder runs until November 23 at the Erindale Studio Theatre.