Since we live and sail on Mahone Bay and have come to know most of its islands by sight, I read Frank Parker Day’s 1928 novel Rockbound with great interest. I wasn’t the only one. Thanks to CBC’s Canada Reads program, the previously obscure novel has been lionized by the Canadian literary establishment and the public.
One of the book’s biggest fans is my mother. She has read it several times. When I took her sailing around East Ironbound Island, the setting for the novel, the binoculars and cameras were in constant use.
If Day’s characters were as thinly disguised as his settings, it’s no wonder that the locals he met on Ironbound felt betrayed by his portrayal of hard-drinking, feuding fishing families eking out a hardscrabble living on a small island. But they are long gone now, and new generations of readers marvel at the dramatic sweep of his story, his vivid characterizations and the detailed portrayal of pre-industrial fishing. For me, Rockbound has made the outer islands of Mahone Bay come alive with the ghosts of those who have gone before. Imagine rowing from Tancook to Ironbound, from Ironbound to Pearl (“Barren Island” in the novel) – well, I can’t, really, but characters that I have come to care for do just that in the novel, so I believe it is possible.
When I heard that Two Planks and a Passion Theatre Company was developing Rockbound as a musical, I was astonished and very curious. Written by Allen Cole and under development since 2006, it is now playing “off the grid” (outdoors) at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts, half an hour north of Wolfville. My mother and I, both very excited, went last Wednesday.
From the opening song, my questions and doubts about how a musical format would serve the story were laid to rest. My ears were awash in delicious sound and my jaw remained in my lap for much of the performance. Harmonically and rhythmically complex and expressive, the music transcends genres and beautifully evokes the epic story and the setting. The acting and singing were wonderful. How else could this play have been done? The music elevates the story, poeticizes it, universalizes it.
I hope to see Rockbound again when it comes to Chester Playhouse August 13-16. Meanwhile it is playing until August 9 at Ross Creek. Not to be missed.