SUMMERWORKS: Plucked, Eatingthegame, Lessons in Temperament

by Lynn on August 14, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer


At various locations in Toronto, Ont.

This is the first year I am having a truncated Summerworks. I’m usually raring to go for this Toronto August festival ritual of 10 days of one act plays, trying to cram in seeing as many of the 40 or so plays in that short time. This year was different. This year I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Friday, August 5 and returned to Toronto Friday August 12, in other words, right in the middle of Summerworks and so miss so many shows.

I posted a review of Trompe-La-Mort, or Goriot in the 21st Century before I left. Here are reviews of: Plucked, Eatingthegame, and Lessons in Temperament which I’ve seen since I got home. I’m seeing more on the last day.


Written by Rachel Ganz
Directed by Carly Chamberlain

A play about women’s body images usually dictated by men. A woman is reduced to the image of an egg-laying chicken, ‘owed’ by her husband. The chicken-lady and her husband have a daughter named “14” who is in love with a developmentally challenged man who rides a tricycle. At a certain age “14” will sprout feathers and begin her journey into becoming a chicken like her mother.

In her play Rachel Ganz writes with a fearlessness in creating an off-the-wall metaphor for how women are perceived in the world and it isn’t pretty. Just listening to the different ways the Olympic commentary describes male athletes as opposed to women athletes is pretty telling. With the inclusion of bluegrass music and the search for a missing vagina, Ganz is not afraid of going ‘big’ in her efforts to prove her point. I do find that the metaphor does go on a bit past the point and a bit of judicious cutting is in order. Carly Chamberlain directs with her usual keen eye for detail and creating arresting images.


Written by Hong Kong Exile and Conor Wylie
Directed by Milton Lim

An unfocused, rambling, self-indulgent 20 minute show spread over 80 minutes stretched to 90 interminable minutes, including a short break for some reason. Conor Wylie plays a motivational speaker trying to change the world through business; an actor trying to pitch the show for Summerworks; a man doing bad stand-up and playing an offensive game of “White or Asian” with the audience to warm them up. Life-shortening drivel.

Lessons in Temperament

Created and performed by James Smith
Directed and developed by Mitchell Cushman

I would see anything that Mitchell Cushman directed. After seeing Chasse-Galerie and the fine work of musician-composer James Smith on that show, I will see anything he does too.

In Lessons in Temperament James Smith shows us the intricate, detailed world of tuning a piano. He is very methodical in this task. He demonstrates how a note sounds before and after he has tuned it. The differences are minute but he makes us hear the differences.

While he is carefully hitting note after note on the piano he’s tuning, he is telling us about his family, specifically his three older brothers. They all have experienced mental illnesses of some sort– obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia etc. Even James Smith reveals he has experienced mild obsessive-compulsive disorder. Tuning a piano, with its repetitive striking of a piano key to hear the sound before and after the tuning, is a perfect metaphor for explaining the obsessive behaviour his brothers and he have gone through.

Smith would hit a key, tighten a string on the piano to get the right sound, and interspersed with this he tells us stories of his family, specifically each brother and their journey. I must confess that suffering from jet lag is not the ideal state in which one should see this show.

While this is a very personal perhaps painful story of James Smith and his family, what is not in question is Smith’s love for his parents and brothers. Mitchell Cushman has once again directed a fascinating site-specific show with nuance and sensitivity.

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