Text review of radio broadcast: THE FOURSOME and PIG

by Lynn on September 20, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, September 20, 2013. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm. THE FOURSOME at the Sterling Studio Theatre until September 28, and PIG at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, until Oct. 6.

 Phil Taylor was the guest host.


Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin. Hi Lynn


Hi Phil


1) What’s up this week?


As usual two plays and they couldn’t be more different. The Foursome written by Jane Ford, is billed as a ‘dark, satirical comedy,’ about three upscale women friends who need a fourth for tennis, after their tennis partner of 15 years dies in a car accident.

 They are Tanda: a high-powered lawyer with low self-esteem when it comes to dealing with her critical mother and her negative psychiatrist; Kris who owns a tony shop in Rosedale that sells jam and crabcakes. And Jaz, a television news anchor.

 They all have secrets which they hide from each other. They think they’ve lucked out when they get a fourth player to join their group. Young, rich Dylan Vanstone, the heiress to a fortune. They are all charmed by her. They all want to spend time with her, lunch, a drink, shopping.

 Dylan is watchful, cunning, manipulative and she  slowly breaks through their defences and learns their secrets. She’s masterful when it comes to learning their weaknesses. Dylan has a secret of her own and it’s a doozy.


2) It sounds dark. How is it funny?


We seem to like to listen to women being bitchy. They talk about each other behind their backs. They comment on how Kris seems to spend a lot of time with women friends even though she is married to a handsome man. Or how Tanda is very prim and proper and coy about her clients etc. Or how they run down other members of the tennis club.

 And when Dylan comes on the scene, the stakes are ramped up because she begins to play one against the other in the group. For example, she convinces Tanda to buy expensive scarves which Tanda wears all the time—unlike her usual buttoned up self—and the others make fun of her, which plays on her low self-esteem. Dylan challenges Kris about her sexuality, and so on.


3) How is it as a play?


That’s tricky. Playwright Jane Ford has made a career either acting in or writing for television. The Foursome seems to be her first play and it looks more like a television show than a theatre play. Scenes are short and blocked off with upscale type cheesy music. The characters seems slight and not developed. They all don’t have a clue about each other—and they certainly didn’t know how troubled the woman who died in the accident was. Their dialogue is glib and slick.

 I did think of VideoCabaret of all things—a wonderful theatre company that does produce terrific plays but with a focus on the audience that was brought up on tv—their whole presentation is like a tv show but with depth.

The Foursome then seems to change tone in Act II when it becomes almost a thriller. There are slight hints of something in Act I that are connected to a surprising revelation in Act II that is a bit too pat. And the ending suggests something deeper than the play supports.  I think there is a lost opportunity to get the audience to question a connection of Dylan to one of the members of the group.


4) How so?


Dylan reveals something about herself that one of the characters should twig to. But because the moment is not focused upon or drawn out by director Kyle Labine, it passes by. He does move scenes very efficiently around the various areas of the theatre—the whole space is used with the audience sitting around the action. And there are good performances from the cast a celebrated group of women in the comedy/tv/film/world.

 As Kris, Jane Ford (doing double duty as the playwright and actor), is sophisticate but with an edge. This is a character who tries to smile off her defensiveness about her sexuality. As Jaz, Kathryn Greenwood has that hauteur of a person in the public eye; a confidence and thencrumbles when her secret is revealed. Caitlin Driscoll plays Dylan with a perky, subtle pushiness. And she’s frightening and that’s good. And as Tanda and various others, Kirsten Johnson is both formidable as a lawyer and a dissolved mess when ever she has to speak to her demanding mother, or her snide psychiatrist. Terrific performance.

 On the whole, I think they bring this off, although I think the piece might make better tv than a play.


5) And tell us about PIG. Intriguing title.


Intriguing indeed. It’s written by Tim Luscombe, a British playwright. And as we learned last week when I interviewed Brendan Healy, both the Artistic Director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and the director of Pig, he received the script about four years ago. This is the world premier of this play.

 As he says in his program note, he read it immediately because the title intrigued him and was shaken by the presentation of gay male sexuality. Tim Luscombe presents the darker side of gay male sexuality. Some might call it deviant, harmful, brutal. Luscombe is painting this as a form of love among willing participants.

 At the beginning two men meeting on line for sex. One is Joe who is 16 (Joe is one of the few names he uses that I can mention on the radio.) Later he will be called PIG. The other is Steve who is older. Another name for him is Knife. They are rough both in accent and behaviour. The sex and behaviour is sadistic if it’s Steve and masochistic if it’s Joe. They both need each other for that reason among others.

Years pass and we see them again only this time the accent is ‘posh’. Both are now writers, Joe is a successful novelist and Steve is struggling to write plays. The attraction is still dangerous and even violent. But as the play progresses you realize you may be watching a play within a play.You may be watching the play that Steve is trying to write or has written. The lines of what is real and imagined are blurred. It’s still a world that is hidden but real—the world of deviant, brutal sex by willing participants. And it’s the world of our headlines.

 There is also another character or characters named variously as Harry, Barry, Larry and Garry. He is in love with Joe and is fearful about Steve because of what he can do to Joe.


6) It might be the world of our headlines but it seems like hard theatre to sit through.


It is, but theatre reflects the world we live in. And in some quarters that world is brutal, violent, sordid and people live there. Tennessee Williams had one of his characters in Suddenly Last Summer say: “Nothing that’s human disgusts me.”

This play reminded me of the plays of Sarah Kane. She was a playwright whose plays dealt with a bleak, violent, unforgiving world. Kane committed suicide at 28 and I find that just soul crushing because her writing was both brutal and poetic.

 Tim Luscombe in Pig is Sarah Kane x 2. Again, the language is hard hitting, grotesque and breathtakingly poetic and elegant all at the same time. I think it could have been cut a bit—the ending is a bit fuzzy and seems to come from nowhere, but on the whole the play certainly is formidable.

This is the world premier of Pig. On line there are all sorts of glowing comments about the quality of the writing and the structure etc. many of these come from British/London artistic directors, none of whom produced it.

 I think Brendan Healey and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre is probably the only place with the guts to do it. And it takes guts both from the artistic point of view and from the audience’s point of view. It’s a play and a production that doesn’t let you look away.


7) Does the production realize the play?


Definitely. Brendan Healy takes these difficult plays—be it Blasted by Sarah Kane, or The Maids by Jean Genet or Arigato Tokyo by Daniel MacIvor—and creates productions that are so visually spare and stunning that you are drawn into that world—you can go home at the end, but for the duration of the performance you are compelled.

 Healy creates that world of intoxicating danger, attraction, and foreboding but without blood and guts on the wall, or bombarding us with violence. The imagination does all that work.

 In the first scene a character comes out from behind the curtain. He is played by Bruce Dow and in this speech alone he is both mesmerizing and shattering. He quietly, elegantly tells us what he believes in—ordinary things at first and then it gets more unsettling as the speech goes on.  He says, “I believe in the finesse of a knife.”A line that leaves you gasping, it is so elegant, unexpected, beautiful.

 Bruce Dow in his focused, understated way is terrifying as a man who thinks the ultimate thrill would be to kill someone.

 As Joe, Paul Dunn has that kinetic energy of a young man who is daring, later the poise of man who is older but still seeking the thrill of this dark world.

 And as Steve, Knife etc. Blair Williams has that dark, dangerous demeanour that can charm and frighten. He has charmed Joe into that world and keeps him willingly captive until the terrifying ending.

 Pig is certainly not for everybody. It’s for an audience that likes to be challenged, pushed, unsettled. You will not come out of that play uninvolved.  It will divide audiences—those who love it or hate it. But you will be shaken, perhaps even stirred. I thought it was stunning.

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

 The Foursome plays at the Sterling Studio Theatre, 163 Sterling Road, unit 5 until September 28.


 Pig plays at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until Oct. 6.


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