CIUT reviews of Summerworks roundup and The Thrill

by Lynn on August 16, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

 The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, August 16, 2013, CIUT FRIDAY MORNING CIUT 89.5 fm. Summerworks Roundup and The Thrill. A full review of The Thrill is on

The guest host was Philip Conlon.


Good Friday Morning, it’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn.


Hi Phil


 What do you have for us this week?


I have a roundup of Summerworks and a review of The Thrill that opened at Stratford this week.


Let’s start with the roundup of Summerworks.

What are your top five and why?


This was not a good year for Summerworks for me. I found the selection of plays on offer was not as high a standard as in previous years and I had to struggle to find the top five. And the festival was full of technical difficulties.

But here are my top five in alphabetical order. I must say I have one more to see and it’s getting lots of buzz: Late Company by Jordan Tannahill. I see it Sunday.

But here are my five:

The Balad of Weedy Peetstraw written by Peter Anderson and John Millard; direction by Jennifer Brewin. About Weedy Peetstraw, a sweet young man who is conflicted. He wants to help his widowed mother work the farm. He loves his girlfriend but he also loves music which his mother thinks is the devil’s music. So Weedy sells his soul to the devil to become a famous musician. There is a struggle for his soul between the devil and Weedy’s loving girlfriend with help from a hell hound in woman’s clothing. The play is imaginatively written; the music is wonderful and lively; and the cast is fine.

Entitlement by Sugith Varughese and directed by David Ferry.  An unemployed screenwriter gets a job at a private school teaching screenwriting. He encounters a smarty pants student who feels that since he’s paying a lot of money for his education, he should not fail just because he has not attended 40% of his courses. Nor should he be penalized for not doing assignments. He just wants to be a director and sees no reason to know how to write or know the history of film. The kid has a sense of entitlement that is stultifying.

Varughese’s writing is sharp, perceptive and beautifully captures the essence of such folks and we have all met them in this university setting. I often found myself gritting my teeth in recognition. Again the cast is strong.

Holy Mothers by Werner Schwab and directed by Elizabeth Saunders. It’s a deceptively simple play about three cleaning ladies who get together for tea. One is an uptight, righteous woman who chides the other two. One is an oversexed, often married woman who would jump the bones of any man if given a chance. And the last is a woman, a bit crazed as are they all, who prides herself on being able to unclog any toilet with her bare hands.

As the women get more and more intensely into their interaction we know that this is not a simple case of women ranting. It’s a metaphor for the rise of three dictators in Europe.

I thought it went on a bit too long in the writing, but the acting of the three ladies—Astrid Van Wieren, Lorna Wilson and Vickie Papavs is terrific.

I was particularly impressed with the direction of Elizabeth Saunders, her first directorial effort. She’s a wonderful actress who is jumping in to directing.

The Life of Jude written by Alex Poch-Goldin and directed by David Ferry. I reviewed this last week. About Jude a religious preacher who thinks faith is more important than moral responsibility. It has 21 actors in it.  I loved the tenacity and the drive to get this mammoth enterprise on stage. Terrific effort.

Murderers Confess at Christmastime written by Jason Chinn and directed by Simon Bloom. Wild. Three separate stories play out over Christmastime. A young woman is held captive by a serial killer who loves dressing in his victim’s underwear. A husband is caught by his wife in bed with a man he met on line. And a gentle man in a wheelchair invites a woman from work, to his house for a drink. He likes her. He hopes she likes him.

We see all three play out separately until there are murders—the title says it all.  And again the cast is strong.

And two special mentions.


What are they and why?


This Wide Night by Chloe Moss. About two women ex-convicts who met in prison and cling to each other in their loneliness. I had trouble with the play and the writing, but it had Kristen Thomson and Maggie Blake playing the two women and they are always a draw for me.

Maria Gets a New Life by Cliff Cardinal. About a First Nations single mother and her two children on the run because the mother killed someone. The draw for me was Cliff Cardinal.  He has such a quirky sense of humour and sense of story. The synopsis was compelling—so often there are just so self-indulgent. Cardinal is a natural story-teller and fine writer. And the bonus was a dandy production.

Only two special mentions. Most of the rest that I saw were poor.

There were a lot of plays that dealt with memory, forgetting and remembering. Most of them were best left forgotten.

There were was one about technology and social media that was little more than self-indulgent chat room drivel and mild pornography. One took place in Purgatory. Hell would be having to see it again.


1)   You mention some technical difficulties.


For the first time in forever several theatres let us in very close to show time; therefore the show started late and ended late. That meant that one had to scramble to get to the next show on time.

The exception was at Theatre Passe Muraille that let us in 15 minutes before show time and started bang on the dot of when they should.

One show, Nanny: Maroon Warrior Queen performed and written by d’bi. young was a workshop and it was not listed as such in the catalogue; the synopsis had nothing to do with this unfinished show—and young read from her script.

She deliberately misrepresented the time to Summerworks because she wanted a talk back with the audience to further develop her show. And she let in late comers all through the performance—at least four times. It’s unprofessional, disrespectful of the audience who showed up on time, disruptive, distracting and disgraceful.

I will never see another show by d’bi. young at any festival like this, until she gets her show finished.

Summerworks is getting too big with music, live art  and theatre all in the mix. On the whole it was not a happy occasion.


4) And how about The Thrill?


The Thrill by Judith Thompson is both fascinating and frustrating.

Fascinating because of the questions Thompson seems to want to explore: the rights of the disabled; the right to die if a situation is hopeless; what to do about the aged who are not able to be taken care of at home.

And frustrating because Thompson hasn’t explored any of these ideas fully or deeply. She talks around issues which is not the same as dealing with them.

Elora is a tough, hard-nosed lawyer who is a champion for the disabled. She is also wheelchair bound with a debilitating disease that she was born with. She manoeuvers her motorized chair with one finger.

Francis is the gentle bear of a man who is her full-time care-giver and friend. He listens calmly to Elora’s rants and rages with breath-taking erudition about her latest gripe and cause. Her new target is Julian. Elora calls him the ‘anti-Christ’.

Julian has written a popular memoir about his family and in particular his young sister Ruthie who had a debilitating disease; could not speak and was always in pain. For all his love for her, Julian thought it would have been better for Ruthie to have been allowed to die when she was first born and they knew of her problems. Elora has interpreted Julian’s book to mean that he would have put her to death at birth too, because she was so disabled.

A debate is arranged between Elora and Julian about their attitudes towards the disabled. When we meet him, Julian is courtly, mild-mannered who spends most of his time trying to refute Elora’s claims about him, and a bit under the gun.  He seems out of his depth with her as she circles him with her chair, firing comments at him to which he is slow to reply. In spite of all this, Julian is charmed by Elora and reluctantly, she by him.

In another scene we also see that Julian is a dutiful son to Hannah, his aged mother, suffering from dementia. She had been at a facility but hated it so much she begged Julian to take her home, and he did.

She is now looked after by caregivers, until even that becomes too difficult and Julian must investigate putting his mother in a safe senior’s home.


How hasn’t Judith Thompson explored the issues?


All the negative information about Julian and his book comes from one source, Elora and she overstates her case without proof. Julian as the anti-Christ? Really??!! She interprets Julian’s comment that his sister would have been better off if she had been allowed to die at birth, to mean that people in her (Elora’s) severely disabled state should have been allowed to die at birth too. Julian never meant that and says so.

So Elora is an unreliable source of information.  The result is that there is no debate regarding letting severally disabled babies die at birth.

Elora wants Julian to use his influence to lobby government to provide more money to families so that disabled, demented, elderly parents who need care, can live at home and not be put in institutions, which she refers to as “the Gulag.”  

He calls some politicians but in his heart he feels that there comes a time when even home care is not an option and safe care in an institution is the only hope. Elora’s refusal to see any other side of the story also prevents the play from dealing with the issue reasonably.

If the play works at all it is to the credit of the strong cast who by force of their performances fill in blanks in the play, or at least divert our attention to the fact the play is thin with pretentions to being weighty.

As Elora, Lucy Peacock is astonishing. She sits in that wheelchair, hunched over and twisted into the chair, but the eyes beam brightly, the jaw fairly juts out challenging all and sundry. This is a performance that dazzles with passion, conviction, fierceness, and bravery

As Julian, Nigel Bennett is tempered, good natured, harried by both Elora and his mother, but controlled and compassionate. As Francis, Robert Persichini is a bear of a man with a gentle, calming attitude. It’s a funny, witty, compassionate performance. And as Hannah, Julian’s feisty mother, Patricia Collins is feisty, stubborn, confused with that unmistakable ‘look’ of one with dementia, and full of concern that she will be put away.

Director Dean Gabourie moves the proceedings efficiently. His staging of Elora circling Julian in her chair is particularly effective. Gabourie establishes relationships with clarity.

Judith Thompson has written several speeches that are exquisite and so telling, but it’s the larger issues that have eluded Thomson.

“Thrill” is described as ‘to cause to have a sudden, sharp feeling of excitement’ what Elora feels when she’s in the throes of an argument; or what she feels when she’s with Julian.

I wish she had actually written the play that she describes. Now that would be thrilling.


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

Summerworks continues to this Sunday.

The Thrill continues at the Studio Theatre at the Stratford Festival until September 22.

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