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John Dunsworth and poetry of the moment 

Halifax actor's spur-of-the-moment aside is a thing of beauty.

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Late last Thursday evening the actor John Dunsworth was draped over an armchair in a living room on Moran Street. Dressed from head to toe in crisp black---suit, shirt, socks, shoes---he looked like an elegant priest. Handsome.

In a sense he was a priest. Thom Fitzgerald and Doug Pettigrew have been shooting their first TV series, Forgive Me, and Dunsworth was waiting to be called to set to shoot a scene for the finale. He plays The Prelate of the parish (who is both a mentor and disciplinarian to the young Priest played by Mike McLeod).

For a while Dunsworth and Jeremy Akerman, who plays Father Gene (a priest harbouring a dark secret from the distant past) and Jennie Raymond, who plays Sister John Dominic (a nun trying to position herself as an ally to the Priest should he survive scandal and climb in the church hierarchy) were talking to each other, in character. Sister John was catching Father Gene up on how she sassed the young priest in the confessional, pushing him on a parish rumour. The young priest was on set next door and so not there to defend himself. The actors amused themselves and sundry by using lines lifted from the script combined with improvisations.

The conversation evolved very gradually from the characters in pleasant conversation to the actors shooting the shit until they too would be called to set. Somehow the conversation got on to Dunsworth and his dad, Frank, who had been a psychiatrist.

Dunsworth recalled a time he was out sailing with his father on St. Margarets Bay. "I asked him," Dunsworth said, "if he had ever cured anybody. He had a quizzical smile on his face when he said that wasn't his job." And then Dunsworth said, "Twenty-two waves hit the bow of the boat. And then my father said, 'My job is to help people lead the most productive life possible under the circumstances.'"

Twenty-two waves hit the bow of the boat is a nice way to express the passing of a length of time. We get a sense of how long that was, an intuitive, gut sense, something that saying two minutes could never do. There's a lot of beauty in that phrase. The two first words each starting with T. The first two words each with a W within them, leading the way to the word waves where the W takes first place. Hit the is the intermission of the sentence, each with H, each with T. The I in hit and the E in the sounding very close to each other.

And then bow of the boat. It could have stopped at bow: Twenty-two waves hit the bow. Adding of the boat brings the sentence to a close with alliteration, the buh sound in both bow and boat. The long O in boat purses the lips, opens the mouth slightly, and the final tuh sound in boat does not close the mouth. It sounds nice. Physically it feels nice.

The journey through the vowels of this sentence is lovely. (Never mind hit the and of the. Enunciating them thoroughly is not to any advantage. Leave them slurry and elided---sounding like hit thuh and uh thuh---make them recede, become the extras around the real talent.)

Later in the night (TV shoots make for very long days) Dunsworth was asked about Twenty-two waves hit the bow of the boat. Was it something new that had just tripped off his tongue, or had he been saying it for years? Did it come from somewhere? It was new, he said. He said he just said it.

Friday morning the list of nominees for the ACTRA Maritime Awards were announced. Forgive Me got three. One was for John Dunsworth, for Outstanding Performance by a Male in a Feature Film or TV Series.

Saturday night he won. Dunsworth bounded to the podium to collect his hardware. He thanked Fitzgerald. He talked about his four children, who were all there, about how all of them work in the film and TV business with no prompting from him. He recited a poem he had written.


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Jane Kansas used to work for The Coast but she ran away into the wild blue yonder. She doesn't go to church but she has a thing for ex-nuns. And amnesiacs. And conjoined twins.
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