Ellipsis Tree Collective’s ‘The Real McCoy’ lacks conflict

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The Ellipsis Tree Collective’s The Real McCoy takes place in the Canmore Opera House in Heritage Park. Before the play opened we were informed that Andrew Moodie didn’t just want to tell the biography of inventor Elijah McCoy, he wanted to create a play that reflected the African American experience. The Real McCoy is the first of three plays as part of Ellipsis Tree Collective’s Black Canadian Theatre Series, featuring plays written by Afri-Canadians. The series aims to “delight [our] eyes and ears with stories [we]’ve never heard before.”

The Real McCoy tells the story of Elijah McCoy, a black Canadian-American inventor and engineer, who was most noted for his 57 patented inventions. We are taken through McCoy’s life from losing his mother at childbirth (played by Janelle Cooper) to his interactions with his father (Tefari Thompson) and acting mother (Norma Lewis). The young McCoy (flatly portrayed by Chad Hackett) is devastatingly intelligent, easily thinking at a level his classmates (delightfully played by Kevin Rothery and Luigi Riscaldino) can’t achieve. He then moves to Edinburg, Scotland where he gets an education (the older McCoy is then portrayed by Chis Clare). The play illustrates McCoy’s struggles in implementing his inventions, especially to steam engines because the fact that he was black needed to be suppressed. It’s a gruelling life, with no real recognition for McCoy in the end.

The cast overall does a good job in their roles. Rothery is a standout, whether he’s playing a young child, an owner of a train company, or a privileged women screaming ‘do you know who I am?’ Cooper is solid in all of her roles as is Clare. Hackett does a better job as McCoy’s friend later in the play than he does portraying the young McCoy.

The sound design is supplemented by singing which is a lovely touch and the play weaves in design elements that add to the storytelling by recurring throughout the play.

The Real McCoy runs a little long and if Moodie’s goal was to do more than just explore McCoy’s biography, he didn’t really achieve it. The play does tell the story of an inventor that probably wasn’t really heard of and illustrates the trials of his life, but there isn’t conflict within the narrative. The audience will leave the theatre glad that they heard the story, but not stirred by its content.

Ellipsis Tree Collective’s The Real McCoy plays at the Canmore Opera House in Heritage Park until March 22nd. More information is available online.

Photo: Luigi Riscaldino, Kevin Rothery, and Chad Hackett
Credit: Nancy Deslauriers

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