by Lynn on December 10, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

The review of the following two plays was broadcast on Friday, Dec. 9, 2011. CIUT, 89.5 FM. Between 9 am and 10 am: THE DEBACLE at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs until Dec. 10. DYING CITY at the Toronto Free Gallery at 1277 Bloor St. W. until Dec. 17. Hear the podcast on under Friday, 9 am, the show with no name.


1) Good Friday Morning. Because of scheduling difficulties Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer, has pre-recorded her theatre segment with me and not Damon, who has had his own scheduling challenges.

So Lynn, what are you going to talk about this week?


Hi Rose.

I’ve got two: THE DEBACLE which is part of Nightwood Theatre’s New Groundswell Theatre Festival. The production comes from Halifax produced by the Zuppa Theatre Co.

It’s about a woman named Margaret who is reminiscing about her childhood, and mainly about her younger sister Clare.

And DYING CITY, produced by surface/underground theatre company—a spunky independent theatre company in town.

It’s about coping with loss and grief. A young woman is coping with the tragic loss of her husband in Afghanistan. Her husband’s identical twin brother arrives unannounced to share his grief with her too and she doesn’t want it.

Actually, both plays are about coping with death, dying and grief.


2) So let’s start with THE DEBACLE. What’s it about?


It’s created by Susan Leblanc-Crawford and Ann-Marie Kerr. Susan Leblanc-Crawford is the performer in this one person play.

Ann-Marie Kerr is the director.

The story: Margaret is holed up in the attic of her house, in her underwear. She is remembering aspects of her life growing up with her family and especially with her younger sister Clare. Even as a kid, their father treated Margaret as an adult. He shared things with her in a way different than young Clare.

Margaret recalled wonderful things about Clare and with every new remembrance Margaret, would put a memento of that time in a jar and screw the cap on.

Clare loved to paint so Margaret smeared the outside of a jar with some paint and then shoved the brush in the jar—but couldn’t screw on the top because the brush was ‘taller’ than the jar. One of Clare’s notebooks is put in another jar.

A phone keeps ringing downstairs. Margaret is jarred out of her remembrance by the ringing, but she won’t answer the phone.

Obviously something is not quite right here. Margaret is in the attic in her undies; she is recalling her sister mainly in a way that suggests Margaret as a fragile mind, and the phone is persistent in ringing.

Subtly we learn that Margaret has not been there for many serious family events—death of parents for example. She was defending her PHD is one excuse.

She can’t bear even to go to the cemetery much later with Clare. They have a fight. That results in a terrifying accident. Clare is in the hospital and Margaret can’t bring herself to go.

Memories and longing run deep in this play.


3) Obviously the story cuts close to the bone.


I totally agree.

Both Susan Leblanc-Crawford and Ann-Marie Kerr wrote it. The story unfolds carefully and subtly. Margaret seems always responsible but something wasn’t quite right.

I wondered why she couldn’t come home for her parents’ funerals (at different times). Why couldn’t she even go to the cemetery? Why couldn’t she visit Clare in the hospital and it was serious?


4) Does the play solve that mystery?


It didn’t and I found that troubling. I don’t think I missed that clue. But I found it so interesting that with all the information we have of both sisters what sent Margaret off the rails is not clear.

The production though is terrific.


5) How so?


The set by Andrew Cull is a cramped attic above the stage, where Susan Leblanc-Crawford as Margaret, sits, surrounded by all sorts of jars into which she will put her memories of her sister. Then puts each jar neatly on a shelf.

There is not a lot of space up there to maneuver. But as Margaret, Susan Leblanc-Crawford does wonderful work. She flips and flaps out her house coat, sometimes covering herself and sometimes not. She slides around the space because there is no room to stand.

She is full of sweetness when recalling her sister and the various memories. The tone turns to something odd as the recollections go on until they are full of emotion, anger, angst, and anxiety when she reveals she can’t go into the cemetery.

Susan Leblanc-Crawford is fragile-minded, buoyant, troubled and absolutely gripping.

The direction by Ann-Marie Kerr is exquisite, jaw-dropping creative and always serves the play. She has a sense of the visual that is stunning.

There is an image of Margaret putting some lit birthday candles in a jar that I won’t soon forget. Hers is an imagination that is exceptional and this production is proof of it.


6) DYING CITY is your next play. How is it similar to THE DEBACLE?


In this one we have a sibling—Peter, grieving for his late twin brother Craig, who died in Afghanistan.

Craig was in the reserve army and he went to Afghanistan, much against his wife Kelly’s objections. The way he died is shocking and has caused his brother and wife no end of angst as to what they might have done to stop it.

The three of them were/are entwined. Peter is an actor who does action movies. He’s gay, sexually irresponsible, unreliable, he’s trying to break into serious theatre and he’s failing because he doesn’t have the discipline to stay the course. He’s needy. He was always at his brother’s and Kelly’s for help and understanding. Now he just drops by Kelly’s for the same solace and she wants none of it.

He has been trying to contact her—she changed her phone number and e-mail address.

Kelly is a psycho therapist with a challenging job, of course.

Playwright Christopher Shinn digs deep into the hearts and minds of siblings, certainly twins, relationships and the secrets even people who are close, hide from each other.

Certainly Kelly has issues with Peter, her clinging brother-in-law. And of course she would feel left out of her husband’s decisions, first to go to Afghanistan, and then do what he did when he was over there.


7) In the production, do they have twins playing the twins?


They do not. They have the wonderful Sergio Di Zio playing both brothers. And since they are never on stage at the same time, that’s ok. Sergio Di Zio differentiates between the two by wearing an undershirt, while the other brother always wore an unbuttoned shirt over his undershirt. Di Zio of course differentiates between the personalities of the two.

Craig is confident, mature, easy in his body language. Peter, the action actor, is a bit skittish, unsure, tries to cover his insecurity with a quick laugh and smile and of course Kelly sees through it as does Craig.

As Kelly, Lesley Faulkner beautifully conveys that uneasiness when Peter is there. She is vaguely polite. She offers him some coffee. She asks how he’s doing. She listens. But the edge, the subtle irritation that he’s there is quite fine. And she is loving but frustrated wife to Craig who has his own secrets.

Both are wonderful performances.

It’s well directed by Peter Pasyk—I am really impressed with what he can do in small spaces. He establishes those relationships, the dynamic, beautifully.

I do have a quibble. The audience sits on a steep rake. So if there is a scene, as there is in the beginning, in which a character is rummaging around on the floor looking through books I assume, we don’t see it unless you are sitting at the very front. If the characters are standing or sitting on the couch in front of us, that’s fine.

That’s something to remember for any director—will your audience be able to see at the back, or the middle?

Other than that I think the production of DYING CITY is terrific, as is the production of THE DEBACLE. Two terrific bets for this weekend.


Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

THE DEBACLE closes tomorrow night, Dec. 10 at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs.

DYING CITY is held over to Dec. 17, at the Toronto Free Gallery 1277 Bloor St. W. and the Lansdowne Station.

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