A theatrical tour de force coming to Gibsons will illuminate the emotional labyrinth of B.C.’s most notorious case of plural marriage and faith-fuelled exploitation.
Gracie is a one-woman drama that stars Vancouver-based multidisciplinary artist Amy King, and will play at the Heritage Playhouse on Feb. 16, 17 and 18. King is a graduate of the Canadian College of Performing Arts — and niece of Grantham’s Landing writer David King, who died in 2021.
King delivered a showstopping musical number in Foolish Man, a 2022 musical revue dedicated to the works of her award-winning uncle. In addition to her professional work on stage and screen, she also appeared frequently in performances of the local Off the Page play-reading series.
“The Sunshine Coast and Gibsons were just so astonishingly kind to me,” said King. “And a lot of that was because of David and just how he got me involved within that community. Every time I step off the ferry to the Sunshine Coast, I’m like, oh, it’s just a safe place for me.”
Gracie was written by Canadian playwright Joan MacLeod and debuted at Victoria’s Belfry Theatre in 2017. The story is focused on a young girl born in a polygamist community inspired by the real-life community of Bountiful, B.C.
Bountiful is home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In 2017, its bishop, Winston Blackmore, was convicted of polygamy and human trafficking, having been found to have married 24 women and fathered 149 children.
In Gracie, the titular character crosses the 49th parallel with her family to settle in Bountiful. Her mother is to become the 18th wife of the patriarch. A life rooted in the virtues of family, community and faith becomes tainted by patriarchal authoritarian rule, human trafficking, child sexual abuse, and child labour — among other crimes.
When King heard of Gracie’s inaugural production in Victoria, it struck a chord. She was born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and remained an active member until she was 20 years old.
“The realities of life between the LDS and the FLDS church are very different,” she said. “I wasn’t sequestered away from the public, polygamy wasn’t a practice, and I had a fairly normal Christian-centered upbringing. However, the LDS church’s doctrine is much the same as the FLDS church, the difference being in how you practice it.”
In the play, King portrays 14 different characters, and depicts Gracie’s progression from the age of eight to 15. “It’s quite fun, but it is quite a beast for sure,” King observed. “This material is so charged that I think that everyone can kind of find like they all relate to it in some way and they all want to protect this really vulnerable human being.”
The Gibsons Gracie is directed by Jessica Anne Nelson, who works with Vancouver’s Excavation Theatre and is also a professional intimacy director for live productions.
“I know that if anyone ever tried to take my daughter and marry her off at 16 years, I would protect her at all costs,” said Nelson. “In directing this piece I hope to do the same for Gracie and that the audience will want to champion and protect her as well.”
Tickets for Gracie (Feb. 16, 17 and 18) are available at the One Flower, One Leaf art gallery in Gibsons Landing and online via heritageplayhouse.com. The production deals with very mature topics, including plural marriage, psychological, domestic, and sexual abuse against young women and underage girls and religious exploitation and abuse.