Friday, January 21, 2011

Into the Sun

He was wont to speak plain and to the purpose, like an honest man and a soldier—
Much Ado About Nothing, Act II; Scene III

In 1986, I was living between New York City and Los Angeles. Before making my way from east to west, I spent the winter traveling in Italy.

While on the small island of Ischia, I searched for an old-fashioned telegraph office, where I would send a missive to a couple back in my country of origin, Canada.

Ischia acts as sister to the more famous island of Capri. The latter, a darling of the jet-set as a second home to their la dolce vita, has charm and sparkle, but I appreciated my seaside walk on the quieter Ischia. A warm winter sun was beginning to set as I mumbled aloud the words I would send across the globe to my friends on their wedding day.

On December 7, 1986, Sheila McCarthy married Peter Donaldson. These names may not be familiar to you, but they belong to two of Canada's best actors. Many spoke of the twosome as golden. Touched by angels in talent, humor and a flair for good living.

Golden. I swirled the word around in my mouth that afternoon, long ago on Ischia, as I wandered walkways splashed in golden Italian rays. I imagined Sheila and Peter's wedding and the crowd of theatrical personalities gathered to sing to them, dance with them and wish them a solid lifetime of joy.

Peter died this month, at the age of fifty-eight, after a two-year battle with cancer.

Peter Donaldson was a combination of rare qualities sculpted into a theatre gem. He found center stage by way of quiet strength, then dazzled audiences with an uncommon combination of charisma and veracity. The man simply could not tolerate phony.

As I admired the performances of Spencer Tracy, I tipped my hat equally to the work of Peter Donaldson. He had the ability to enfold us in Shakespeare's language, making the words clear and his characters as believable as any flawed human being. This is no easy trick, and I hope thousands of young actors witnessed his magic and set their own bars as high as Peter set his.

Peter acted on the stages of the Stratford Festival in Canada for twenty-five years. He also acted across the country in other theatres large and small. He graced celluloid and television.

Peter and Sheila raised two good daughters. Offstage, Peter had a passion for golf and recently traveled to Scotland to play on the greens where the game had its inception. I imagined Peter as Macbeth and smiled at the irony of an actor more suited in life to the role of Macduff, a stalwart and upright leader of men.

One of Peter Donaldson's celebrated performances as Jaimie Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night" set audiences' hearts on edge. His muscular and desperate rendering of a young man wrapped in rage and bitterness was, again, work honest and impossible to ignore.

As I remember that Italian December sun in the Ischia harbor and the golden coupling of Peter and Sheila, I believe his long day's journey was cut much too short. This is a hard time of loss for all who knew Peter Donaldson and all who had the fortune to be in the presence of his work.

An actor died this month, and the sun dipped behind a cloud.


  1. Mel,
    Part of this beautiful entry was read at Pete's memorial yesterday, as you no doubt know. It was so great to hear your name and your words at that passionate love-in for a singular man. Reading this filled my heart again. Thank you.

    Stewart Arnott xo

  2. How great is it to hear from you Stewart? Thank you for the kind words. I miss you!



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