The Triangle Factory Fire Project—Review

by David Schlachter

My review of the April 9th, 2008 performance of Canterbury High School’s production of “The Triangle Factory Fire Project”, for the Cappies.

An inferno erupts; many are immolated, others fall nine stories to their deaths, and the spirits of the dead linger. A tragedy with greed at its heart, but will justice be served?

Canterbury’s thought-provoking production of The Triangle Factory Fire Project brought to light issues of today through a tragedy of the past. On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Manhattan. A locked door prevented escape, and within half an hour, 146 workers died, most of them young women, among whom was a certain Margaret Schwartz (Hannah Cherrette). The factory owners were subsequently charged with causing her death. The fire, and the results of the trial, increased public awareness so as to significantly impact the rights of factory workers in America for the better. The production, shown in the style of epic theater, invites the audience to consider the impact of this event, and its significance in today’s world.

Canterbury’s production carefully maintained a keen attention to context. Original music, composed and performed by Lora Bidner, added significant emotional value and underscored powerful moments. Makeup, by Jessica Wagstaff and Anna Boekhoven was impressive, especially on the specters of factory workers. Small changes in lighting helped emotional development, and lighting was used to provide illusions of drastically changing sets, setting mood effectively.

Choreography, designed by Alessia Lupiano and Kelly McNamee, was another strong point of the show. The Nine, a spectral ensemble representing spirits of fire victims, performed much of the more complex movements. With Lupiano and McNamee’s choreography, The Nine became fire and, with engaging fluidity, surrounded dying workers to greet their spirits in passing.

Patrick DeDauw, as the young Journalist William Shepherd, gave an isolated, yet human, perspective in the action. DeDauw effectively expressed sincerity and a wide range of emotion in the monologues of his character. Hannah Cherrette, as Margaret Schwartz, performed amiably, and Duncan Burns-Shillington, as Max Schwartz, moved and spake gracefully. Both Cherrette and Burns-Shillington complemented each other well, and created a believable sense of tender familiarity.

Ian Moggach, as factory superintendent Samuel Bernstein, was thorough in his character’s development and downfall. Moggach’s firm understanding of his character was visible throughout the show, especially in his final scene as a drunken shadow of a man. Kayla Carman, as Margaret’s mother, Bertha Schwartz, portrayed believable grief and anguish, seemingly representing all the families of the deceased.

The entire cast of the production kept impressive commitment and focus onstage, always riveting the audience’s attention exactly where it was desired. Scene changes were also fast and effective, and the beautiful set was highly versatile.

Through all the tragedy of 1911, Canterbury’s production constantly reminded us of the condition of too many factory workers today. A strong performance helped to focus on the point—as Rose Schneiderman said, “The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred.” The Triangle Factory Fire Project is a warning to us all of the dire consequence of disregard towards human life.