'Lights in the Forest’ pays homage to remarkable story

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Community effort helps bring local history to life

By Karla Kelly

FOR THE DIGBY COURIER

NovaNewsNow.com

The last curtain call has been made, the stage lights extinguished and the echoes of applause have faded now that the opening chapters of the compelling Stehelin story, ‘Lights in the Forest’, have been played out in the Marc Lescarbot Theatre at Universite Sainte-Anne.

Actors, crew and playwright received standing ovations and many words of congratulations for a job well done from the sold out audiences after each of the three performances Feb. 12 and 13.

Comments such as “excellent play, stellar performances, intriguing story retold where it all began, fabulous, just the right touch of humour, so happy the story’s been told” and the promising, “I’ll be here for the second part of the story, can’t wait.”

Hal Theriault’s ‘Lights in the Forest’ presented the background to, and beginnings of the Stehelin experience in coming to Nova Scotia from France in the last decade of the 1900’s and paid homage to one of the region’s most remarkable stories.

Playwright Hal Theriault spoke enthusiastically about the play and the actors’ performances. “Everyone did a wonderful job, I am proud of them all,” said Theriault. “The cast, many of them novices, worked very hard at doing something so unique to what they were use to.” “It was just the right mix with 25 actors ranging in age from 12 to 70 and everyone worked so well together. The end result was born from a huge community effort with contributions from local Acadian, Black and English actors,” he said.

The response from the audience was also tremendous and very much appreciated added Theriault who treated them to his special brand of humour throughout scenes in the play.

Andrew Maves in his lead role as Emile Charles Stehelin, the family patriarch, said he considers Theriault to be one of this area’s treasures and working with Hal and the cast has been incredible. “Neither my wife, Allyson, who worked long hours helping me practice, nor I had ever known the story of ‘New France’ and the Stehelins but Hal’s craft brought it to life,” said Maves. “I have yet to visit the ‘Electric Forest’ but the play has made it a priority to me.”

The way Theriault is helping to preserve the history of our area is remarkable added Maves.

Weymouth native, Louise Mullen, who took on the role as the matriarch, Marie Therese Stehelin, late last summer, said she has childhood memories of New France through picnics at the site and history lessons. “I knew the story well from my growing up years and it was passed on to my children as we were constantly camping at Langford Lake,” said Mullen. “With the publication of Paul Stehelin’s ‘The Electric City’ in 1983, it renewed an interest in New France and now with the play it’s nice to see the history right in our own backyard brought to life.”

Mullen added that she loved every minute of being in the play and the audience response was great. “Their involvement, especially with the laughter made me feel that the play was going well.”

Local businessman and pharmacist Rod Lefort said playing the role of Roland was an incredible experience for him. “I had a wonderful time being involved in the production but it was amazing the amount of work and dedication that was needed to pull it off,” said Lefort. “I hope that for a lot of these actors the laughter will be a narcotic that will encourage them to continue on in their acting careers.”

A unique part of the production was the involvement of two sets of families consisting of five members each.

One family group was made up of Weymouth residents Don McNeil (Pere Blanche) who was joined by his nephew, Dean Jones (Jean Jacques Stehelin), niece Julie Ford (Germaine Stehelin) and two of her sons, Mackenzie Ford (Maurice Stehelin) and Daniel Ford (Bernard Stehelin). “To be part of such a wonderful cast and crew was a privilege,” said Julie Ford. “Hal’s patience with us novice actors was endless.”

Ford said it was a blessing to stand next to her children and watch her brother and uncle on stage. “Our family has lived in this area for many generations and my grandmother knew one of the Stehelin sisters.” “Gram passed on the love of story telling and laughter to all of us and like me, she would have been so proud,” she said. “It was a lot of hard work, a lot of fun and now the boys are just waiting for the second part of the play.”

Theriault said he is hoping to present the second half of the Stehelin story this fall or early next spring. ‘Lights in the Forest’ was presented by the Weymouth Waterfront Development Committee and Sissiboo Landing and as Louise Mullen pointed out, the play was a highlight for Weymouth and area and the village is proud.

Organizations: Marc Lescarbot Theatre, Weymouth Waterfront Development Committee

Geographic location: New France, Weymouth, Nova Scotia Langford Lake The Electric

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