Broadcast text reviews of: SAVAGE IN LIMBO and FARTHER WEST

by Lynn on October 25, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, Oct. 25, 2013 CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM Savage in Limbo at the Downstage Theatre until Nov. 3 and Farther West at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until November 9.

The guest host was Phil Taylor.


Good Friday morning of this very important fund-raising week for CIUT. It’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn


Hi Phil


What’s up for this week?


Before I get to reviewing this week’s two shows, let me add my voice to urge our audience to donate to CIUT, radio that matters. No other radio station programs what we do here which makes CIUT even more important and invaluable.

 While arts coverage is dwindling in other media, at CIUT FRIDAY MORNING our arts coverage is expanding. We have interviewed artists who make a difference. And reviewed shows by established companies, but more often than not, focused on companies that are small, just staring out and feisty, just like the companies I’m reviewing today.

 We are a registered non-profit charitable organization that receives little funding, which makes the donations of our loyal audience vital. Donate now by calling either 416-946-7800 or 1-888-204-8976.

 Your donations let me do what I love doing more than eating chocolate, and that’s review plays on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING and pass on my enthusiasm for theatre.  Phil let’s get to it.


1) Ok, what are you covering this morning?


Two show, first Savage in Limbo by John Patrick Shanley and then Farther West by John Murrell.


2) What’s Savage in Limbo about?


John Patrick Shanley wrote Savage in Limbo in 1984. It was his third play.  Since then he has written 22 more plays (Doubt), plus screenplays (Moonstruck), and won everything from an Academy Award to the Pulitzer Prize to the Tony Award.

 The cheeky press release begins: “…a virgin, a failed nun and an over-ripe Italian girl walk into a bar…..”

This seedy bar in the Bronx is a haven for losers.  Murk is the sullen bartender who wants people to either drink or leave. He has a soft spot for April, our failed nun but a very successful alcoholic. She sits at the bar in an alcoholic haze lamenting her life.  Denise Savage is the virgin in limbo. She says she would love to move on with her life; have a relationship; sleep with a man but can’t because she has to take care of her housebound mother.

 Linda Rotunda is the over-ripe Italian. She’s a brash, spandex-wearing, tough-broad who has slept around, left her boy friend, and suggests to Denise that they become friends—they actually went to school together—and after that, share an apartment. Tony Aronica is Linda’s wayward boyfriend. They are all losers in life, love, jobs and hope. They rage; they accuse; they challenge; they are unrelenting and dangerous in an endearing kind of way and they are all appealing.


3) What makes them so appealing?


Shanley knows how to reveal the rawness of characters; to show them at their most brash, vulgar, hilarious, vulnerable selves. It’s a comedy with serious overtones.

His wit is quick; the situations are funny and serious and Shanley can float a laugh out of all this anger like nobody. They come from the Bronx. He knows those people because he used to be one of them. 

The characters explode onto the space in their own ways, all corralled by director Sarah Kitz. As Murk the barkeep, Tim Walker is still with a stare that is compelling. You don’t mess with this guy.

 Director Sarah Kitz knows how to keep characters moving to create the sense of unease and pent up energy.

 Linda Rotunda, beautifully played by Melissa D’Agostino and Tony Aronica, played by a smoldering Nick Abraham are always prowling and circling each other, like animals ready to pounce. Linda is packed into her spandex pants and tight top ready to jump the bones of her boyfriend, or challenge anyone else.

 As Denise Savage, Diana Bentley is buttoned up, repressed, fearful, funny and touching as the virgin living a life of longing and frustration.

 And as April, Caitlin Driscoll is dead-eyed, in an alcoholic haze; slow moving and riveting.

 I love everything about this one. It’s produced by a brave new company called Bob Kills Theatre Company; Melissa D’Agostino and Diana Bentley are the ones who created the company. It’s being produced in a new space called the Downstage Theatre, downstairs from the Magic Oven restaurant—so you can have dinner upstairs and see a play downstairs.

 And all these actors are people to watch and make note of.  Savage in Limbo is well worth seeing.


4) And tell us about Farther West.


It’s produced by the established Soulpepper Theatre Company.

 Blind obsession is at the heart of Farther West, John Murrell’s 1982 hugely theatrical play. It’s 1886 in Ontario. May Buchanan became a prostitute when she was 14. She now runs a brothel. And together with her three co-workers, Violet, Lily and Nettie, they keep their customers happy, in a fashion.

 But May is restless. She is always searching for a place with no rules where no one has ties to her. She was told by her father early in her life to go ‘farther west’ to find what she wanted. And over the course of the play, she moves farther west across Canada looking for that lawless place.

 As for the obsessions…There is Seward, a police officer who stalks May in order to arrest her for her sordid life style. Eventually he is thrown off the force for his zealousness. But even then he stalks her across the country to purify her of her sins—he’s a religious fanatic.

 Then there is Thomas Shepherd, a customer who wants to take May away from that life and marry her and keep her on his farm.That lasts a year until she takes off. She gets to the edge of the country, to Vancouver, and goes farther west still.


5) What makes the play so theatrical?


The emotions and the obsessions of these men to

possess May are huge. The sweep the of the play that always goes farther west creates a momentum. And Murrell’s dialogue and speeches have size. They are almost operatic in nature.We are swept along like a relentless tsunami. All the men want to reform May, or possess her; or idealize her. She just wants to be left alone in a place with no rules.


6) Is that theatricality carried over into the production?


Yes. It’s directed by Diana Leblanc, a terrific director. She puts us right in that raw world as soon as we get into the theatre. Two naked people are asleep on the stage. A large man and a slim woman. It’s May and one of her customers. They shift. He flops an arm over her.

She gets up and wanders around the stage, naked. Shocking at first, but then we get used to it and see past the skin to the person.As May, Tara Nicodemo has that feisty confidence of a woman who manoeuvres in a dangerous world with smarts and seduction. Her voice is almost flat which shows May’s frustration, her lack of enthusiasm for anything, but her resolve to move forward.

 There is a scene at the very beginning, as she looks out in the distance, sitting naked, with her naked customer sleeping behind her, that says everything about her life. The look is wistful, calm, thoughtful with a twinge of longing.

 May’s rough world is beautifully created by designer Astrid Janson with a background that is large and dark. The set has one raked section and a section with water for May’s final move farther west. It is simple and effective.


7) How do the men do?


You certainly get a sense of their attraction to her, their obsession with her. As Seward, Dan Lett is relentless and leering. And by the time her follows her to Vancouver, he’s crazed. It’s a performance full of danger.

 As Thomas Shepherd, Matthew MacFadzean has moments of tenderness and bullying possession. Evan Buliung plays Hanks, a very proper Englishman who wants to take May for walks and show her the finer things in life. He’s quietly sweet. And as gripped as the men are by May, she is loved by her three women friends who show a fierce loyalty to her.

 At times I find the play overbearing with its relentlessness to the inevitable conclusion, but the production is always compelling and arresting.


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

Savage in Limbo plays at the Downstage Theatre, 798   Danforth Ave. (Downstairs from the Magic Oven Restaurant) until November 3,

 Farther West plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until November 9.

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