Padre X, a solo show by Marc Moir, is the story of the only Candian army chaplain to earn the Victoria Cross (and some fame), for his almost insane devotion to the men of his company during the Second World War. Declaring “England has too many chaplains already,” John Weir Foote refused to be transported back home after the attack on Dieppe, jumping off the boat to be captured by German forces and spend years comforting soldiers as a POW. Moir’s characterization strikes the right balance between folksy humility and tearful reverence. He speaks directly to the audience, telling his story to pass the time while waiting for a delayed Canadian train (some things, it appears, never change).
Moir recounts the events of Dieppe lyrically while never romanticizing death or war. He inhabits the character of Foote with ease and assurance. The writing is crisp and efficient, a piece of excellent craftsmanship. Moir shows clear love for his story, telling the audience post-show about a new archival find that he had the privilege of studying that caused a script change; as she is also an archivist, this warmed the reviewer’s heart. Props are used sparingly and judiciously; mostly realistic save an umbrella standing in for a gun. The choice speaks to the production’s eventual choice of a slightly removed warmth over a feeling of immediate danger. This is a production one can easily see the CBC turning into a Saturday night film; 80 Heritage Minutes long. The aesthetic is both the production’s strength and its weakness; as well-made as it is, the show can never escape the feeling that its story has already been told, even if its central figure is of interest.
It is almost too well-made; it hits predictable notes and it’s not hard to tell where the next joke or section of story is going. This is comforting and reassuring, but in an entertainment world that in many ways has World War Two fatigue, it might be nice to be occasionally thrown off-guard by a story that has a real sense of terror and loss at its core. When those emotions are emphasized, particularly during the recount of the Dieppe invasion and the show’s final moments, Padre X shows its real heart, and is entirely captivating.