Reviews: With Love and a Major Organ, Memorial, and This Is War

by Lynn on January 4, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following shows were reviewed Friday, January 4, 2013 on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 FM. Rose Palmieri was the host: With Love and a Major Organ, Memorial at the next Wave Stage Theatre Festival at Factory Theatre Until Jan. 13, 2013 and This is War at Tarragon extra space until February 3.

1) Good Friday morning, it’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn—Happy New Year! What theatrical treats do you have for us?

The New Year started with a theatrical bang with the Next Stage Theatre Festival beginning Jan. 2.

It takes shows that have played at the Fringe for example and are ready for the Next Stage in development, hence this wonderful Winter Fringe Festival.

I’m going to talk about WITH LOVE AND A MAJOR ORGAN by Julia Lederer and MEMORIAL by Steven Gallagher, both from Next Stage playing at the Factory Theatre, and THIS IS WAR, a new play by Hannah Moscovitch at the Tarragon Extra Space.

2) Let’s start with the Next Stage Theatre Festival. What are the two plays about?

WITH LOVE AND A MAJOR ORGAN is by Julia Lederer and was a hit at the summer Fringe (which I am never here for, because I’m on vacation). It’s about a couple, who meet on the subway. They travel the same route and usually get into the same subway car.
They strike up a conversation and the woman is interested but the man seems reluctant. The woman imagines a whole scenario but gets frustrated when the man does not reciprocate as she would expect.

What follows is a whimsical journey in which the man does steal her heart and ‘wears’ it inside himself trying to get closer to her and she wanted it back. To complicate matters, there is the man’s mother who has her own issues.

Loneliness being one and being single seems to be the other. She goes to these speed dating events but comes away without any success, until one day, she gets lucky when the man on the other side of the table seems interested. In their own individual way, they are of course all connected with the need to connect.

3) Tell us about the next play, MEMORIAL.It’s written by Steven Gallagher.

Full disclosure. I first saw a this play in its earlier incarnation as part of the Trafalgar 24 hour play contest. The play had to be written in 24 hours, then performed and judged.

>MEMORIAL won the contest.
I was one of the judges. This version of MEMORIAL is completely different from the one I saw. It’s about a hyperactive, easily frustrated man named Dylan. He’s dying of a brain tumour. And it’s his wedding day. He has a lot on his plate.

He is keeping a careful record of his behaviour, what is expected from the disease and generally driving his sister and lover crazy.

Added to that, Dylan always wanted to attend his own memorial and so he’s planned his own memorial and will attend it at a date coming up, just to hear what people say about him. He tells his sister Ruth what to say. He’s also yammering and complaining to his patient lover Trevor. It’s a play about reminiscing; holding dear to the things and people you love during life.

It’s full of appropriate anger, frustration, love, huge natural laughs and kindness.

4) What intrigued you about both writers and their plays?

With Julia Lederer and With Love and A Major Organ I love her sense of whimsy.

That idea of chance meeting—we all know about—but having the man take her actual heart seemingly without her knowing it because he wanted to get to know her and get close to her; and she wanting her heart back.

I like the metaphoric ideas of it. And Lederer’s facility with language is terrific. She has a line that goes like this: “hours pass as slowly as kidney stones.” Brilliant. Her characters have a quirky sense of humour that is disarming.

A quibble. She starts the play with a reference to the mother arranging for her baby son to have a paper heart to protect him from heartache etc. So he will be able to cope when he grows up. There is a lot of time between that first scene with the mother, and the meat of the play between the couple meeting on the subway. Then even later when we realize that mother is the woman speed dating and the son is the man on the subway. I think that has to be revisited and tightened up.

With MEMORIAL, Steven Gallagher shows the various stages of a person dying: the frustration of the dying person; the paranoia, his mood swings which has an effect on the lover and sister and it’s hard for everybody.

And the characters are all naturally wildly humourous.

5)As productions, how do they do?

This being a kind of Fringe Festival, we cut them slack because of the short rehearsal time etc. None of these needs slack.

WITH LOVE AND A MAJOR ORGAN is well directed by Andrew Lamb with an efficient, gentle hand. Julia Lederer plays the woman and is flighty, emotional, disarmingly insecure and very funny. As the Man, Robin Archer is strapping, fretful and can float a laughline that is a thing of beauty to behold. As the Man’s Mother, Martha Ross is quite touching in her worry about her son and the state of her dateless self.

MEMORIAL is directed with sensitivity and detail by S. Jeremy Smith. The cast are uniformly terrific. As Dylan, Mark Crawford is a mass of twitches and bubbling energy but we also see the irritable frustration of his situation. As his lover Trevor, Pierre Simpson is quiet speaking, caring, committed and moving. And as Ruth, Mary Frances Moore is beautifully understated and nails each point and laugh.

And she has a scene in which Ruth is about to give birth and the pain, the discomfort and the writhing are vivid and catching. I was squirming in my seat and occasionally I had to cross my legs.

6) And THIS IS WAR. Give us the details.

It’s the latest play by wunderkind Hanna Moscovitch. It’s 2008, Afghanistan, and the Canadian forces are holding Panjwaii. The play examines what war does to people as seen through the eyes of four soldiers there.

An atrocity was done in one of the villages they were guarding and the three soldiers are being interrogated as to what happened (the other is a medic).

Moscovitch gets into the heart and emotions of the soldier in a war torn country; claustrophobic, hot; they are irritable and squabble amongst themselves and their hormones are raging.

And of she paints a picture in which even the most innocent thing could be deadly. It’s not a text book case of the horrors of war, it’s its own thing—a particular look from a Canadian point of view.
Her dialogue is muscular, compelling; unsettling and perceptive.

7) Is the production as compelling as the play?

I think director Richard Rose and his wonderful designer Camellia Koo do a splendid job of puting you right in that world.

We enter the playing space through narrow sand coloured corridors that could be earthen tunnels, which opens into a low ceilinged enclosed bunker like structure. The colour and the texture remind us of claustrophobic earthen enclosures. We get the sense of the claustrophobia those soldiers experience.
The characters are obviously affected by their situation where every decision is vitally important.

The cast of four is excellent with Ari Cohen as Captain Stephen Hughes is particularly watchful, easily riled, and dangerous.

8)You obviously had a good time at these three.

I did. With Love and a Major Organ, I saw the work of a young playwright whose work I want to see again.

With Memorial, I see another artistic facet of Steven Gallagher. I know him as an actor.
With Memorial he is a gifted, thoughtful playwright.

And of course you always look forward to a new Hanna Moscovitch play. I love how she puts us right in that dangerous, caustic heightened emotional world of the fighting soldier in a dangerous place, except we are safe.

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

With Love and A Major Organ and Memorial play at the Next Stage Theatre Festival at Factory Theatre until Sunday, Jan. 13.

THIS IS WAR plays at Tarragon Extra Space until Feb. 3, 2013

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