By DAVID F. SHERMAN
January 25, 2012
As we walked into Moody’s Tavern, we were greeted by friendly men and women while a girl played the fiddle to perfection. The room was ringed by simple, long benches that were soon filled with guests. We were offered a hot cider and ginger cookies.Moody’s Tavern is the setting for “The Lion and the Eagle,” a compelling play staged by the Dominion Repertory Theatre at historic Fort Erie. It is directed by Brian Coatsworth and produced by Vince Marinaccio. The assistant producer is Antonietta Petrella.
As explained in promotional pieces for the play, the setting is the Christmas season in 1811, six months before war was declared on Great Britain by the United States. Residents of the hamlet of Fort Erie, Ontario, are concerned about the possibility of war on the Niagara Frontier. Unlike the Americans across the Niagara River who declared their independence 35 years earlier, they remain fiercely loyal to King George.
Tavern patrons enjoy singing Christmas carols with vocal support from audience members, all sitting too close to hide. Members of the diverse cast dance, bow and curtsy and convey a real sense of family and friendship.
Suddenly an imaginary shot is fired through a window, the ball embedding itself in the opposite wall. A couple of men immediately suspect the shot was fired by Americans, but the tavern owner, Abner Moody, portrayed by Dan Bennett, tries to convince himself that hunters may have been responsible. He is in denial that his home and native land may be attacked at any minute.
Alas, a group of men returns from a check of the area with two Americans caught fleeing toward the river. Their hands are tied behind their back in the center of the crowded room as they are berated by angry patrons who pledge to repulse any American efforts to seize their land.
The play becomes increasingly pro-British as mothers proudly pledge their sons to the cause. Americans are assailed for their bold desire to conquer anyone in their way from Louisiana to Hudson Bay.
The prisoners mock King George as a tyrant who cares only about the land of Upper Canada, not its people. The residents liken President James Madison’s desire to annex lands north of the border to the rampages of Napoleon.
Yet there is one missing piece to the puzzle.
Young William Merritt, portrayed by Drew Belanger, confesses that it was actually a member of the Mohawk tribe who captured the two Americans. Enter John Norton, played by Carson John, who shines new light on the tension between the United States and Great Britain. Members of the Six Nations have been suffering at the hands of both countries and will soon have to make a decision as to which side to support if war breaks out.
Everyone in the tavern suddenly sees the similarity between the exploitation of white men and native people.
At the conclusion of the play, Moody accurately summarizes the outcome of the war. While he and his friends were insulted by the idea of a foreign power taking their property by force, he failed to mention that the British burned Lewiston, Black Rock and Buffalo two years later. But both sides learn a great deal from the Six Nations people, who lost their last real chance for independence in the War of 1812. The moral of “The Lion and the Eagle” is crystal clear: war never solved anything.
Hats off to the Dominion Repertory Theatre and especially fiddler Amanda Botts. The lengthy list of sponsors is led by TD Canada Trust and the Niagara Parks Commission. As many of us know, New York State has refused to authorize a War of 1812 Commission to steer – and fund – any large-scale activities.
“The Lion and the Eagle” will have its final two performances at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, and 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29. Tickets are $15 or $10 for students. For more information, visit www.FortErie1812.ca.
And be sure to try a cider.