The Stratford-based, independent theatre company, Here for Now Theatre Company, will present the world premiere of Stratford playwright Mark Weatherley’s new work, Whack!, at Knox Presbyterian Church from Oct. 24 to Nov. 3.
An independent Stratford theatre company is bringing the world premiere of local playwright Mark Weatherley’s new play, Whack!, to the city’s Knox Presbyterian Church next month.
According to Fiona Mongillo, the company’s managing producer and the woman who will play the lead role in the new play, the Here For Now Theatre Company has staged four productions in Stratford since the company began in 2012, but it was only recently that it turned its attention toward new works.
“The last one we did was in the spring, and it was also a world premiere of a new play,” Mongillo said. “We’re hoping to produce a model where we produce biannually and really focus on new works. I’ve always loved new plays. I fell in love with theatre at Blyth when I was 12 and, in the six years I spent there, four of the plays were collective creations, so they were new works.
“There’s something about the alchemy of putting together a new work. You never know what the outcome’s going to be.”
In Whack!, Mongillo will play Angelina Napolitano, a real-life historical figure who, after murdering her abusive husband with an axe in 1911 when she was six months pregnant, ignited a public debate around domestic violence and the death penalty. Ultimately, Napolitano’s death sentence was overturned, and she became the first woman in Canada to use the battered woman defence on a murder charge.
“The year prior to her stabbing (her husband), he had actually stabbed her nine times,” Mongillo explained. “She had gone to the police and he had been acquitted. She had suffered years of pretty horrific, extreme abuse. He was also trying to force her to prostitute herself. She was pregnant and, at the time she had murdered him, he had said to her, essentially, ‘You need to go out there and prostitute yourself to make money. By the time I wake up, there better be money on my dresser or I’m going to kill you, the unborn baby, or both.’ ”
But after Napolitano freed herself of her abusive husband, Mongillo said the young Italian immigrant found herself at the will of a patriarchal, misogynistic and bigoted judicial system that only wanted to see her hang. And while public debate over the case ultimately resulted in her going free, Mongillo said she can only wonder at the psychological trauma Napolitano suffered.
“It’s a little piece of Canadian history that I think really does warrant telling,” Mongillo said. “… She had to stand in the face of a misogynistic judicial system that dismissed her not only because she was a woman, but also because she was a fiery Italian immigrant, which was talked a lot about in the news cycle at the time.
“And I can’t help but think about the Me Too movement and how that fits in with current gender politics. And I can’t imagine that she would feel all that dissimilar to someone like Christine Blasey Ford because she’s standing up in front of a room of men who are to ready to dismiss her.”
Mongillo, who will be joined onstage by Olivia Marshman and Siobhan O’Malley, both of whom will play multiple characters, said the story also brings to light the plight of abused women, both in Canada and around the world.
“Mark has written it to be very kaleidoscopic and nightmarish, stylistically, to sort of mirror what that must have felt like to her, in a foreign world and being battered around, first by her husband and then by the judicial system,” Mongillo said.
The play will run between Oct. 24 and Nov. 3 at Knox Church, a setting chosen for both its amphitheatre space and its historical ambiance.
At between $25 and $35 each, tickets can be purchased at whack.simpletix.com.