A MURDER, A nail-biting trial, and politics. This may sound like another quintessential Hollywood blockbuster trailer, but there are no heroics or happy endings in this dark tale. It’s the tragic story of Thomas D’Arcy McGee’s murder that took place not too far from our own campus many years ago.
Though it was the federal politician who was shot in the early hours of April 6, 1868 on the streets of downtown Ottawa, it’s James Patrick Whelan—McGee’s accused assassin—who becomes the star of Blood On The Moon.
What makes this little known piece of Canadian history interesting as a play isn’t that Pierre Brault impressively plays every character from executioner to Whelan himself, or that it took place in Ottawa’s own backyard. It’s that the audience gets a role, too. Given the heavy burden of deciding Whelan’s innocence or guilt, the viewers play judge and jury in the turbulent affair.
Following Whelan’s trial from his arrest to his impending execution, Brault attempts to engage the audience by breaking the fourth wall and asking them direct questions. With references to the Internet and technology, the script begins with an unlikely monologue that doesn’t seem to belong in a 19th century set play, but Brault makes it work.
It doesn’t get more minimalist than Blood On The Moon. The one-man show boasts a completely barren set, aside from a rickety, old wooden chair. The lighting is also low-key, creating a phantom atmosphere with its changes indicating where we are in the story.
It’s no wonder this play is still popular after almost a decade past its inception. Brault is the definition of a one-man entertainer. After writing Blood On The Moon in 1999 and premiering it at the Ottawa Fringe Festival, the play went on to tour across Canada and even got a run in Whelan and McGee’s homeland of Ireland.
The Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) may have used this piece as a filler play for You Fancy Yourself after the star of that one-woman show found herself too ill to perform, but it doesn’t feel like a last-minute choice. Brault masters a handful of accents, all the while making you believe he is whoever he decides to play—and he does it all miraculously without a change in costume.
When it comes to demonstrating Canada’s last public hanging, the air becomes thick with tension as Brault screams out Whelan’s last words. Afterward, you’re left pondering the details of the trial, the evidence, and what our nation was like during its infant years. We like to think of ourselves as a peaceful country, but there are dark stains in our history books, which Blood On The Moon bring forth.
Whether you’re looking for a history lesson on Canada’s Confederation, a cool Ottawa tale, or a really good way to pass 75 minutes, catch this play at the GCTC before its final curtain is drawn.