Theatre by the Bay has taken a leaf out of Barrie’s notorious past and created a new play.

Northern Lights marks the theatre company’s first farce. The story centers on Canada’s biggest cannabis grow-op, which became the focus of national headlines when it was discovered, in 2004, at the former Barrie Molson Brewery.

“I love farce, they’re so much fun,” said Alex Dault, who wrote the play. “With the legalization (of marijuana) I thought it was a great moment to look at this story – what I think people feel embarrassed about – to turn it on its head and see it in a different way. Everyone knows it happened but not how it happened (or) how it came to be. It’s a really funny story, how it came to be.”

The cast of nine represents a variety of characters such as a Barrie mom who, mid-bragging about her son’s new high-paying job, receives a phone call from the local jail. Her reaction to her son’s arrest is to go to the brewery, where she is mistaken for a drug lord. Hilarity ensues, especially when she takes over the brewery by mistake.

A large number of the people who worked at the grow-op were women who were brought to town by truck, blindfolded. They had no idea where they were, just that had a job, to trim buds from the cannabis plants. With no phones or contact with outside world, they stayed 40-plus days at a time, sleeping in one room, their mattresses in a circle. They soon formed a protective sisterhood.

“What’s silly is how out of control the operation got,” said Dault. “It was very sophisticated. Millions of dollars went in the wiring. There were other people renting (sections of) the building and had no idea that it (the grow op) was there.”

The cast features a mix of actors from Toronto and Barrie. The play is named for a strain of marijuana.

Dault has written other farces in the past, along with numerous original plays including several for Theatre by the Bay (TBTB): The Five Points; We Must Have More Men! Barrie and the Great War; and Nine Mile Portage. He is the artistic director of Theatre by the Bay, named to the position in 2015 by the theatre company’s founder. Since then, he has established several new programs such as a monthly playwriting theatre lab. He has also changed the direction of the company to focus on original works that have a Barrie reference.

Dault, a Barrie native, came up through the ranks of TBTB, performing in the young company shows, acting in mainstage Shakespeare productions and directing. He studied theatre at George Brown College. Last fall, Dault won the Excellence in the Arts award at the Barrie Arts Awards.

Northern Lights run from July 20-28 – previews are July 18-19 – at the Five Points Theatre, 1 Dunlop St. W. Visit theatrebythebay.com/northern-lights for tickets.

Photo: The cast of Northern Lights, from the left: (top) Janet-Lynne Durnford, Chloe Payne, Tomas Ketchum, John Fray, (bottom) Tim Walker, Vivian Or, Barbara Clifford. Jordan Probst photo

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