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Jerome: The Historical Spectacle

by Ami McKay

Following the success of her first novel, The Birth House, Ami McKay’s debut play delves into the mysterious and fantastical world of the carnival to tell the tale of Jerome, a legless man who was found washed ashore at Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia, in the mid-19th century.
    While the reasons why Jerome was discovered barely alive, and without his legs or the ability to speak, are unknown, it is documented that, following Isobel’s death, he ended his days as a circus freak-show act.
    Utilizing figures from real life – such as Isobel Costa, the woman who rescued Jerome and took him into her home – and imaginary characters – mostly consisting of carnival “freaks” like the Conjoined Twins and the Three-Legged Man – McKay creates an extraordinary canvas on which to explore the concepts of abandonment, the worth of the individual, and fate.
    In a highly imaginative example of form mirroring content, McKay structures her play around various circus acts, in which performers play multiple roles. The carnival barker, Celestin Trahan, unifies the play, introducing his “sideshow” and presenting Jerome’s tale as series of vignettes.
    The play, which makes use of Bertolt Brecht’s famous “distancing effect,” forces readers to question the way they themselves treat others. The heightened theatricality  never allows us to forget that we are implicated in this drama, that we are culpable – perhaps not for this specific story, but for others equally tragic and inhumane.
    McKay has created a fanciful, moving, and poetic drama about how the vagaries of fate can be either circumvented through kindness, compassion, and love, or compounded through cruelty, hardheartedness, and hatred.