Whylah Falls: The Play


112 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 0-88754-563-3
DDC C812'.54




Illustrations by Jeremiah Sparks
Reviewed by Nanette Morton

Nanette Morton teaches English at McMaster University.


Originally a poetry novel about love, betrayal, and murder among African
Canadians in a mythical Nova Scotia community, Whylah Falls has been
transformed by its author into a full-length play.

The plot and characters are essentially the same. X, a poet, returns
from France nursing an unrequited love for Shelly, who steadfastly
refuses him because “men lie / to lie on top of you.” In the
meantime, Shelly’s brother Othello, a guitar playing, hard-drinking
man who works in a sawmill, campaigns for the election of his white
employer. The white man’s machinations cause dissension between
Othello and Scratch, another black man. Scratch murders Othello and is
acquitted by the “injustice system,” which sees little value in a
black man’s life. In spite of this, Shelly and X and another pair of
lovers unite, their love allowing them to transcend a bitterly unjust

The characters in Whylah Falls speak with a colloquial lyricism that
sounds forced at times, but is more often beautifully evocative. Music
written especially for the play is used well. More could be done to trim
some scenes in order to bring Othello’s murder into focus: although
X’s disillusioned dalliance with Shelly’s sister is beautifully
written, it dilutes the play’s ultimate message of injustice and its


Clarke, George Elliott., “Whylah Falls: The Play,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/707.