Unity (1918)


128 pages
ISBN 0-88922-461-7
DDC C812'.6






Reviewed by Ian C. Nelson

Ian C. Nelson is librarian emeritus and former assistant director of
libraries at the University of Saskatchewan Library. He is also
dramaturge for the Festival de la Dramaturgie des Prairies.


Kevin Kerr is a Vancouver-based playwright, actor and director. This
award-winning play’s cover blurb is succinct and accurate: “[With]
moving familiarity, [Unity (1918) is] a kind of secular liturgy that
celebrates love, sex, death and the sorrowful mysteries of war and

Although structurally cinematic (with a multitude of locations and
evocative pictures), the play proves itself truly stageworthy through
Kerr’s craft in returning to basics and theatrical ways reminiscent of
such celebrated collective creations as The Farm Show and Prairie Wheat.
He thus is able to strike a balance between personal lives (folk
struggling with the hardships of farming, families and fiancées longing
for their men gone to war, sibling rivalries and jealousies) and larger
issues (war itself, social panic in the face of plague, distrust of the

Immediately engaging, the play quickly becomes riveting as war and the
Spanish flu epidemic make themselves felt in a prairie town. With short
monologues to move the chronology along and give expression to inner
feelings, each scene is more touching than the previous one and everyday
conversations reveal poetic social litanies. A series of stage pictures
raises actions to the height of telling symbolism (at one point, two
ordinary people crawl into a bush to “be the thing [people] are scared
of”). The final effect is one of almost unbearable pain, mercifully
and expertly relieved by the occasional dose of gallows humor and human

This splendid play is destined to become a Canadian classic. Recent
“plagues” imbue it with a cautionary poignancy.


Kerr, Kevin., “Unity (1918),” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/9760.