Dragging Newfoundland “kicking and screaming into the 20th century” (a quote attributed to Joey Smallwood), resettlement was a carrot-and-stick approach to depopulating the province’s fishing outports. Communities were encouraged to abandon themselves in exchange for financial aid and the promise of better services in centralized “growth” towns. Between 1954 and 1975, the Federal and Provincial governments brought about the move of more than 300 communities and 30,000 people. First and foremost, Whereverville is a work of fiction and its setting, the imaginary community of Loam Bay, does not appear on any map—tellingly, however, neither do many of the 300 communities by which this play was inspired.
Set in a one-room school house during the decisive evening of the community’s vote on whether to stay or leave, Josh MacDonald’s play is an intriguing reversal of and homage to Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle. While in Brecht’s play, the conclusion of the conflict over a community is that “those best able to take care of the land should possess it,” in Whereverville the conclusion is that “those no longer able to take care of the land should leave it.”
In both plays, it is the heart and mind of a young woman bereft of her future on which the action turns. It is Loam Bay’s schoolteacher, Abby Shea, herself “from away,” who holds the deciding vote as she struggles with her own phantom attachment to the community, its citizens, and its ghosts of times past, and it is she who must learn that sometimes, in order to keep what we hold most dear, we must give it away—that “nothing lasts.”