Jewel tells a tale of loss on Valentine’s Day

By Meaghan Carrier

The year is 1985 and Marjorie Clifford is telling the story of a tragedy that occurred three years prior — the sinking of the offshore oil rig Ocean Ranger. 

Like the Titanic, the Ocean Ranger was deemed unsinkable, yet it went down not far from where the Titanic sank. Jewel, a production put on by The Attic Players, directed by Jacqueline Russell and starring Alynn Trottier, relates this unfortunate tale. The one-woman show centres on Clifford, widowed by the catastrophic event just off the coast of Newfoundland in 1982.

Jewel is renowned Canadian playwright Joan MacLeod’s first play. Initially staged in 1987 at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre, it garnered nominations for both the Ontario Art Council’s Chalmers Arts Fellowship and the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts’ Dora Mavor Moore Awards.

“It was the largest oil rig of its kind in the world and deemed unsinkable,” recounts Trottier, with a note of heavy sadness in her voice. “The distress call came just after 12 a.m., a helicopter made it there just after 2:30 a.m., everyone was dead. A community lost 57 men just from Newfoundland.”

When word reached land that the rig had sunk on the night of Valentine’s Day 1982, an entire community was struck with a loss so great that words cannot express their heartbreak. Twenty-seven other men from around Canada lost their lives aboard the ship, plunging 27 additional families into mourning. In total, 84 Canadians perished in the sinking of the Ocean Ranger.

“Marjorie is Alberta born and currently living in Peace River,” says Trottier. “She grew up in Calgary and at points in her dialogue references Claresholm as well. When her husband went to work for the Ocean Ranger, it was a bit of a separation issue for them. She was a city girl who moved into a rural setting. They were married for about a year before he left to work on the Ocean Ranger.”

According to Trottier, the character is tremendously funny despite her loss.

“She has humour about her life and her circumstances,” says Trottier. “She is also a bit rough around the edges, which are appealing qualities under her tragic circumstances. Having had three years to reflect on the tragedy, the play is about her having reconciliation, or a coming to terms with her deceased husband.”

Fittingly, Trottier expresses that Jewel takes its inspiration from Valentine’s Day, asking “what do you do when you are experiencing loss?”

“Marjorie touches on the whole human aspect of the grief and loss felt by so many because she takes it down to the level of a single person. She talks about what it was like to wait to find out if he was actually dead. It was hours before she knew for sure. Jewel is a nice story of human discovery and growth.”

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