The Whimsy State or the Principality of Outer Baldonia
April 2- 21, 2012
Listen to my live review of The Whimsy State on CBC’s Eyeopener at 8:20 on Tuesday, April 3rd
In his playwright’s notes, AJ Demers says when he first heard the fantastical but true story of Outer Baldonia it struck him as one of those stories so bizarre you just couldn’t make it up. Lucky for us though he did decide to make it up – into a comedic play that tells the tale of couple men who buy an island off of Nova Scotia, declare it a sovereign nation and then declare war on Russia. The Whimsy State or the Principality of Outer Baldonia is a light-hearted comedy that tells the historic account of the island while also adding in its own tall tale elements just for fun.
The real story goes like this – Russell Arundel was a Washington lawyer, lobbyist for Pepsi in the US and an ardent fisherman. While attending the International Tuna Cup Match in 1948 he spotted a small three acre island off the coast of Nova Scotia called Outer Bald Tusket that was the perfect place to dock for a shore lunch or rest while out fishing all day. He liked the island so much, he bought it along with two other Nova Scotia fisherman for $750, renamed it Outer Baldonia, declared it as an independent principality for fisherman and gave himself the ruling title of Prince of Princes. The men then installed their fisherman friends from Canada and the US as knights, admirals or vassal princes depending on how good they were at catching fish. With so many “citizens” it was decided that laws need to be passed, so with the aid of many bottles of run consumed, Russ and his mates wrote a Declaration of Independence. Outer Baldonian citizens were given the right to lie and be believed along with the right of freedom from questioning, nagging, shaving, interruption, women, taxes, politics and inhibition. In addition, the right to applause, vanity, flattery, praise, self-inflation, lying, drinking , gambling and the permission to be silent or noisy if the mood strikes were also added. To avoid overcrowding of the small island, no citizen had to actually live there; they just had the right to pop in when they were in the area fishing.
Without a doubt the most famous thing that happened in Outer Baldonia was when they declared war on Russia. Apparently there was a slanderous critique of the island’s charter in a Soviet state publication in 1953 and when the Russian Government declined an invitation to visit and hopefully retract the insults, Outer Baldonia issued their declaration of war..The whole thing blew over very quickly, but not without a lot of press coverage for the incident and the people involved.
Finally in the late 1960’s, tuna stocks in the area declined and Arundel was rarely going there to fish anymore, so in December 1973 he sold the island for one Canadian dollar to the Nature Conservancy of Canada for use as a sanctuary.
Demers’ play takes this bizarre real life story and brings it to life on the stage. Well, almost. The audience is warned right from the first lines of the performance that like any good fishing story, the play we are about to see stretches the truth “just a bit”. The areas that are played up or made up for comedic effect are mostly concerning Outer Baldonia’s war on Russia and how it was resolved. In the play Russell is invited to the United Nations for a diplomatic event where he meets a buxom Soviet diplomat named Anna who seduces him for nefarious purposes. This bit of back room dealing is what leads to the eventual war declaration on Russia and adds some nicely written and paced comedy to the already humorous story.
The mash-up of the funny true story with Demers’ clever, amusing writing and director Pamela Halstead’s witty direction is only half the reason this play works. Equal kudos must go to the strong cast who bring sweet likeability to the mainly drunken fisherman/citizens. These roles could have easily been over played or turned into caricatures, but Graham Percy as Russ Arundel and Sheldon Davis and David LeReaney as the two Nova Scotia fishermen all exude a lovely comedic charm and warmth that allows the audience to like them in their absurdity. A special mention has to go to the flawless Karen Johnson-Diamond who played Florence the secretary and Ann the Russian diplomat. Her scenes were by far the most memorable thanks to her hilarious timing and superb character acting.
It’s easy to like this play on a whole bunch of levels. The story itself is amazingly fascinating, the comedy hits the right pitch and tone and the performances are utterly engaging. Kudos to all involved for producing this original, perfectly lovely, light comedy.
For the guys – Men buy an island for fishing, ban women, drink excessively and declare war when they get pissed off at Russia. It’s like your dream come true! SEE IT
For the girls – You’ll get over the chauvinistic and delinquent behaviour of the men very quickly and instead warm to the comedy of the story and the characters’ sweet precociousness. Plus Karen Johnson-Diamond often steals the show with a good helping of female comedic prowess. SEE IT
For the occasional theatre goers – This is the perfect show for you. You will giggle your way through this one hour play and learn something interesting at the same time. SEE IT
For the theater junkies – Go, laugh, enjoy. Light doesn’t mean worthwhile. SEE IT