Guy Vanderhaegh takes us back a few decades in the retelling of a court case in small town, Saskatchewan in the play, “I Had a Job I liked. Once. ” Using elements of style, staging and developing characters throughout the play Vanderhaegh portrays to the audience the theme of the biases and prejudices that come with living in a small town. The story is set in small town Saskatchewan in a police station office, on the night of August of 1957.
Corporal Heasman has brought in Les Grant on the account of accused rape Tracy Tolbertson, and the play follows the questioning of Sergeant Finestad to Les, who retells his involvement with Tracy, the daughter of Mr. Tolbertson, the local crown attorney. The story has many sub conflicts; the tension between Finestad and Tolbertson being a main one. Tolbertson wants his daughter’s accused rapist behind bars, but Finestad wants to get the whole story instead of just listening to Tolbertson.
Then there is the conflict of Finestad with himself; for years he has followed the law and stuck to the book, but in this case he is having a hard time sticking to the black and white because he feels that there is more to the story. All these sub conflicts underlie to the main conflict of the prejudices and biases that come from living in a small town, and the difficulties that come with dealing with that. These conflicts all lead up to the climax where Finestand goes against Tolbertson and against the prejudices of the town and lets Les Grant go, without charging him.
Vanderhaegh does a very good job of developing the characters in this play. We are first introduced to Sergeant Finestad who has a very strong character-he likes being charged and doesn’t do well with being told what to do. Finestad undergoes a very big character change through the course of this play. At the beginning, Finestad is very strict to the law, strict to the rules. As he says to Heasman before Les is brought in to be questioned, “Nothing about police work is personal. We follow the law, Tom. We’re the keepers of the rules. If we don’t keep them, what right do we have to enforce them?
” This comes after he writes on the chalk board in big bold letters “NOT PERSONAL”. Through questioning Les Grant and learning his story, we see him change at the end where he lets Les go, not charging him and saying, “something broke down tonight, Tom. Either the book, or me. ” He realized that he couldn’t charge Les just based on what it says in the book. The other character who undergoes change in the story is Les. Les comes from a very rough family, and has had some challenges throughout his life, but he has stayed a good, hardworking kid.
He now works at the town swimming pool in the pump room, which is where he is changed. At the pool Les is bullied very badly- every day when he gets to work there is something new written about him or his mother on the bathroom walls, which he has to clean up. He puts up with this for so long until he finally can’t do it anymore and snaps, which is when he allegedly raped Tracy. Les is then judged because of his family background, and almost found guilty just based on the prejudices against him. There are other characters that help to contribute to the conflict as well.
Corporal Heasman who works with Finestad is constantly against him, wanting Les to be charged to make Mr. Tolbertson happy. Mr. Tolbertson, as Finestad describes him, “likes to win, so the rules get ignored or ben. The law’s a game. ” He doesn’t bother with protocol, but is just used to getting what he wants, in this case being Les being charged. He is a hard nut who always gets his way and orders everyone around, especially his wife and Tracy. Because of this, Tracy rebels and brings out her anger making other people feel bad, such as Les Grant.
All these characters come together into forming the main conflict. Guy Vanderhaeghe broaches a theme that can be very relatable to people growing up in small towns. After Finestad releases Les Grant, he explains to Heasman the reason. He recalls a poem from his grade three teacher that has the lines “Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright/In the forests of the night. ” He always asks himself, “Who made the tiger? Who made the tiger? ” He then goes on to say, “Who made Les Grant? They did. And who made that girl? More of the same. Poor, sorry, fucked up tigers.
And you and me-we’re supposed to play tiger tamer. After they’ve used their teeth. I might have been up to the game-once, but all of a sudden it seems too complicated for rules-for me. ” This is where the main theme of small town prejudices is revealed, and how there’s more to people that what meets the eye. Society judges people based on their first impressions of what they see and what they’ve heard about them. The question “Who made the tiger? ” refers to the events and families in people’s past that shape who that young person becomes.
Tracy’s dad was very strict and hard on her, which makes her rebel, leading her to writing the cruel things about Les on the wall. Les has had to deal with his rough family life growing up which automatically causes people to judge him. Heasman describes them as a “Bad bunch, the Grants. ” Les has also been bullied for such a long time that it causes him to act out. He is good kid, but all these outside influences came into making him make a bad decision. As he explained to Finestad, “Taking it from them for as long as I remember, that gave me the right.
” He believed that he had the right to do that to Tracy because he has had so many things happen to him in the past. This play deals with the prejudices society has against people and how that shapes them into who they are. Guy Vanderhaegh’s use of styling really emphasizes many things in the play, whether it be through the use of different language, symbolism or repetition. Finestad’s injured back is one symbol of his relationship with Les. When Finestad hurts his back, he asks for Les to help him and says, “Don’t let them see me like this.
Please don’t give me away. ” He is humiliated and Les helps him, keeping his promise. At the end of the story, the tables are turned and Les is now the one who needs help. Les is asking Finestad to not lay a charge. He says, “Don’t’ give me away to them. That’s what you asked when your back went out. That’s what you asked me. ” His back symbolizes the debt he owed to Les. The Tiger in Finestad’s poem also symbolizes Les Grant and Tracy Tolbertson, who had many things contributing into making who they are and resulting in the actions they did.
Vanderhaegh also uses Tolbertson’s appearances as a way to contribute to the rising action of the play, leading right up to the climax. At first Tolbertson is just mentioned when Heasman and Finestad are talking about them, then he calls and Finestad ignores him, and finally he shows up trying to threaten Finestad. In all three “appearances”, Finestad put Mr. Tolbertson down leading right up to the climax where he completely opposes Mr. Tolbertson and does not charge Les.
The repetition of acknowledging the statute book also emphasizes Finestad’s character change. He went from following it’s every word to forgetting about it and going against it at the end. The staging also helps in contributing to creating the mood of the play. The whole play takes place in the one office at the police station with no scene change. This set is very basic, which makes you focus on the characters and their actions instead of their surroundings.
The lighting used helps to create the atmosphere for the memories Les has, such as it creating a “lattice-work effect to suggest a grill” at the pool, or the dimming of the lights suggesting a soft summer night on the day Les picks up Tracy.
Instead of scene changes, characters enter and exit the scene giving the impression of a new location. Even in memories, Tracy actually enters the office as Les is describing the memory so as to give the audience a better understanding of what happened. The use of different sounds, such as splashing at a swimming pool or music in a car helps create the atmosphere as well. At the end of scenes, the characters do not leave, rather the lights blackout. The scene is different, but they are still in the same place. This gives you a sense of mood change to the scene.
Finestad never leaves the office until the very end of the play, where he turns the office light off, walks out and the curtain comes down, giving you the sense of finality. Many things have to come together in a play to get the main message across. With Guy Vanderhaegh’s effective use of styling, staging and character building he efficiently gets across to the audience the idea that with small towns come prejudices and biases, and that before making judgments you need to understand a person’s background and circumstances to get the whole story. “I Had a Job I Liked. Once. ” is an interesting play with a good message to take home.
Courtney from Study Moose
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