Former premier Joseph R. Smallwood was a controversial character that played a key role in shaping Newfoundland and Labrador.
Some people put him on a pedestal and worshipped the ground he walked on.
There were also pockets of people who had utter disdain for the man.
The challenge for Colin Furlong is bringing the character to life on stage.
Mount Pearl’s Furlong, a graduate of the Fine Arts Program at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook, is playing the lead role of Joey Smallwood in “The Colony of Unrequited Dreams” on Sunday 8 p.m. at the Corner Brook Arts and Culture Centre.
“It was very interesting for me to kind of delve into the politics and the man Joe Smallwood,” Furlong said Friday from Grand Falls-Windsor during a rehearsal for a Friday night show.
The play tells the historical story of Smallwood’s rise to power, but also includes a ton of fictional material that Wayne Johnston used to make his novel a bit spicy and interesting.
He admits he had little knowledge of Smallwood’s impact on history in this province when he was a young man in his 20s. To prepare for the role, Furlong read Johnston’s novel many times and also did quite a bit of research on Smallwood himself to ensure he was ready for the role.
“It was great to sit down with some books and video tape, and listen to interviews and get to see not only Joe’s point of view on how things went down but other people’s point of view on how things went down,” he said.
“So, it’s been a very interesting process and a very informative process to do as much research on Smallwood as I have.”
Furlong is from the east coast, now living in St. John’s earning a living as a full-time actor, but he got his start in theatre at Grenfell and has spent a fair amount of time on the west coast in the past dozen or so years.
It was during his tenure in the fine arts program at Grenfell that Furlong forged a friendship with playwright Robert Chafe and director Jillian Keiley, who just happened to be his instructors in his third year of the four-year program.
The program at Grenfell gave him the training, tools and support he needed to become a professional actor, he said.
Theatre fans in the Stephenville area can check out Furlong in his role as Joey when “The Colony of Unrequited Dreams” hits the stage Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the Stephenville Arts and Culture Centre.
‘The Colony of Unrequited Dreams’
Playwright — Robert Chafe
Director — Jillian Keiley
Based on the novel by Wayne Johnston
Opening production — St. John’s, 2015
Previous 2017 Tour Stops — Ottawa, Halifax and London
2017 NL Arts and Culture Tour Stops — Corner Brook (Oct. 22), Stephenville (Oct. 24) and Labrador City (Oct. 26)