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SCRUTINY | 4th Line’s Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz Reveals Forgotten History

By Paula Citron on July 5, 2024

4th Line Theatre’s Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz (Photo courtesy of 4th Line
4th Line Theatre’s Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz (Photo courtesy of 4th Line

4th Line Theatre 2024/Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz: The Farmerettes by Alison Lawrence, directed by Autumn Smith, Winslow Farm, Millbrook ON, closes July 20. Tickets here.

Did you know that during WW2, across Canada, upwards of 40,000 mostly teenage girls did farm work when the men were away? That is the subject matter of Alison Lawrence’s sweet new play, Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz: The Farmerettes, now playing at 4th Line Theatre.

In fact, there were five former Farmerettes in attendance opening night who were 95 to 100 years old, and who received a rapturous response from the audience.

If you were between the ages of 16 and 21, and had high enough marks that you didn’t have to write the June final exams, you could sign up with Ontario Farm Service. Lawrence based her play on the book by Shirleyan English and Bonnie Sitter, who interviewed Farmerettes, and did extensive research into the phenomenon. Several sections of the play are verbatim theatre rendered in choral speaking. There are also many scenes where we see the Farmerettes at work and at play.

4th Line Theatre’s Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz (Photo courtesy of 4th Line
4th Line Theatre’s Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz (Photo courtesy of 4th Line

A lot of Peach Fuzz and Onion Skins also features letters, and 4th Line stalwart Justin Hiscox has written original music to underpin the readings. The score also includes songs of the period sung by the Farmerettes. The live band features Justin and Mark Hiscox (25 years with 4th Line), Cindy Babcock and Maria Con. Music has always been important at 4th Line and the Hiscox brothers have been responsible for most of it.

The cast features six young women, most of whom are either recent theatre school grads or currently in theatre school, which makes for a realistic take on the young Farmerettes. The first act, called Peach Fuzz, is set in 1942 in Grimsby, and the second act, Onion Skins, takes place in 1945 in southwestern Ontario. In the play, they say they are in Thetford, but the program says Thorold. I always thought Thetford was in Quebec. The importance of the names of the acts denotes the worse jobs. Peach fuzz causes rashes and itchiness, and peeling onion skins makes the girls positively reek.

In the first act we get camp life. Liz (Alicia Salvador), with her annoying bell, is the camp secretary who does wake up and curfew. We meet sisters Joan (Aimée Gordon) and Dot (Megan Murphy) from North Bay. Rich girl Jay is from Toronto, while Amalia (Carina Salajan) is a Czech refugee from a poor part of New Toronto.

The predictable scenario sees a clash between Jay and Amalia, with the latter having some great sarcastic one liners. Dramatic tension also comes from the news that Jay’s father is missing in action after Dieppe. We also have Reena Goze doing a nice turn as the farmer’s son Ted, who is in charge of working with the Farmerettes because none of the old hands will, and who forms a relationship with Dot.

4th Line Theatre’s Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz (Photo courtesy of 4th Line
4th Line Theatre’s Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz (Photo courtesy of 4th Line

In the second act, Jay and Dot meet up again, but we’re also introduced to two Japanese girls who have been relocated to Ontario from BC with their family and work on the farm. Lucy (Salvador) is the bitter one, while Sue (Goze) is more inclined to be friendly. New girl Nettie (Gordon), who is from Lakefield, has lied about her age, being just 15. She befriends the Japanese sisters against all prejudice. Salajan does a riotous turn as the mean-spirited cook Mrs. Franklin, and a troublesome young boy who harasses the girls, like stealing a bra and throwing it up in a tree.

Overall the play is pretty simplistic and expected, but the young women in the cast make it work through the sheer force of their energetic performances. There is a lot of talent in Peach Fuzz and Onion Skins, that’s for sure.

The 4th Line stage embraces both the barnyard space and the surrounding fields. Director Autumn Smith has done a fantastic job moving her cast up, down, and all around the barns and the fields. The set includes some clever set pieces like benches for beds, and boxes for clothing and sheets. The actors really look like they are working in the fields, and characters are sharply drawn. Costume designer Korin Cormier’s knee-length overalls are adorable, and of course, we see the Farmerettes’ distinctive blue dress and cap uniforms.

4th Line Theatre only puts on Canadian plays, mostly set within Peterborough County and the Kawartha Lakes area. Staging Onion Skins & Peach Fuzz: The Farmerettes has introduced a forgotten and important piece of WW2 history on the home front. That’s why I love 4th Line Theatre. They mount plays about us.

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Paula Citron
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