by Lynn on November 25, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, November 22, 2013. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM: The Sacrifice Zone at the Factory Studio Theatre until November 30 and Heaven Above Heaven Below at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace until December 7.

The Guest Host was Phil Taylor.


Good Friday morning, it’s theatre time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn


Hi Phil


What are you going to talk about today and why?


I’ve got two plays dealing with sacrifice. The first is The Sacrifice Zone written by Suzie Miller and produced by the intriguing physical theatre company Theatre Gargantua—I talked to Jacquie P.A. Thomas, the Artistic Director, last week. It’s about the after effects of an explosion of a factory on the community and the environment.

And the second play I’m talking about Heaven Above Heaven Below by Linda Griffiths, a Canadian icon. It plays at Theatre Passe Muraille backspace. A couple bump into each other at a friends’ wedding after 20 years of not seeing each other. They go back to her room. Things go from there.


Let’s start with The Sacrifice Zone.


It’s produced by Theatre Gargantua from a script by Suzie Miller. Theatre Gargantua is a company whose work is based in physical theatre, telling stories with relevance to all of us.

There has been an explosion at a plant. A lot of people died. The cause is a mystery but human error is thought to be the reason. Most of the survivors take a settlement from the company except two people; a man who lost his wife and a woman who lost her husband.  They stick together to demand an inquiry into what happened. They are ostracized by their neighbours and colleagues in the plant. There are incidents of violence.

There are other couples involved, both who work at the plant, met and fell in love. The man supports the company. His girlfriend thinks something is wrong…the woods and beautiful countryside have been affected by the explosion in more ways than is acceptable. They have a rift too.


We’ve read about these kinds of incidents before. A disaster happens. People are killed. There is outrage. Does the play achieve a balance in telling the story?


I think it does. The play is about people seeking justice and explores what they would sacrifice to get it. Suzie Miller’s play shows all sides of the story. The widow and widower who want justice for their dead, and their living children. But they are conflicted about taking the money which they could use.

The man who works for the company that owned the factory sides with the factory. He’s making a good living. Better than anywhere else. He thinks the company is trying to do better.

His fiancée is seeing how the country-side is slowly deteriorating and she thinks it’s because of the explosion and whatever stuff that was emitted into the air because of the blast. She wants to leave the area completely. He doesn’t.

The ending is both interesting and gut-wrenching. People do strange and wonderful things in terrible, stressful situations.


You’ve described the company as focusing on physical theatre. What does that mean?


It means there is a lot of movement in the production all created by director Jacquie P.A. Thomas. For example the explosion is suggested by sound, created by master musician and foley artist, John Gzowski. What that explosion does to people is vividly depicted by the cast that moves in slow motion, first towards us on a run and then falling backwards, to the ground and then rolling over until they are flat on their faces and still. That movement is repeated and the suggestion of limbs flying, is also created in this complicated, beautiful movement/choreography.

The movement suggests intimacy, animosity, creates a sense of fast pace; freedom; confinement. The production is never short of compelling.

The set by Michael Spence, who is also a cast member, is composed of five wood structures that are easily moved and used as doors, chairs, walls, and any number of ever changing props.

The cast is equally adept at pluming the depths of Suzie Miller’s script. The anguish of a woman who has lost her husband and worries about raising her gregarious son.  The despair of a husband who has lost his wife and has to care for his daughter. A couple who love each other but are torn by their differences of opinion…. That all comes out in the performances, all of them fine.


Moving on to your next play, Heaven Above Heaven Below. What are the details?


It’s written by Linda Griffiths, one of Canada’s leading playwrights. Heaven Above Heaven Below is a continuation of a conversation between her two characters known simply as He and She. That conversation actually started twenty years before in Griffith’s play The Darling Family. At that time He and She had known each other about three months and She was pregnant with his baby. What to do? They discussed it from every angle.

Twenty years later we find out what they did. She had an abortion and soon after, they parted. They hadn’t seen each other since then. A chance meeting at a wedding brings them to her hotel room to drink, snort cocaine, and discuss what happened, from every angle.

They have both moved on in their lives, or have they? In the first ten minutes of the play, She brings up the abortion. It’s out of the blue and it’s startling. He doesn’t want to talk about it. She obviously does.

She lives in Toronto, is a journalist; is single with a boyfriend, not at the wedding. He is a writer living in England; married with a four year old son, who apparently was at the wedding—the son—we aren’t sure if the wife was. The play is a bit murky on clear information.

They talk about their class differences; he’s from an upper class family and she is from a lower class. On that level a relationship wouldn’t work, they seem to suggest.

Did he love her then? Hard to tell.  Did she love him then? Perhaps. The abortion seems to be central to her life even though she suggests otherwise. She says repeatedly that she couldn’t have done it alone—I assume raise the child by herself. Then you have to wonder, what’s the point of the play?


So what is the point of the play?


I don’t know. Truly. It’s a conversation that She has been waiting 20 years to have with He.  He wants no part of it. He was gutless then and still is.

Linda Griffiths has the guts of a bandit.  She has said in an interview that she nearly gave up on the play because it cut too close to the bone. But she didn’t give up. Admirable. To add an even more sobering note to this production, Griffiths is living with cancer and getting treatment during the show’s run.  And she’s playing She to Layne Coleman’s He.

Heaven Above Heaven Below is a painfully difficult show to review for many reason, including those listed above. How does one say with sensitivity and compassion that the play and production are a disappointment?


Why disappointing?


Because the play is mired in She’s self-pity and He’s lack of commitment and concern. I’m not engaged in their dilemma. These characters as played here do not engage me. She had an abortion that affected her for all time. But admits she could not have raised the child herself. She does not rail at him for his cowardice for leaving her. So why are we in the room listening to them?

I found Griffith’s writing to be laboured and heavy handed in trying to impress, be it with their knowledge of art, or His penchant for fine wine and showing off about it.

I also think the play might be better served with better actors. Griffiths as She is a brittle actress here. I don’t get a sense of warmth or nuance. As He, Layne Coleman is plodding and awkward. Hardly engaging.

It’s directed by Karen Hines who does interesting work. She keeps the actors at a distance initially, each leaning against a wall, perhaps sizing up each other—an echo of the Darling Family in which if I recall they clung to the walls in the same way. They circle each other as they size each other up, and the distance becomes less and less. The final scene is beautiful and moving.

I wish I could say the same thing for the play.


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

The Sacrifice Zone plays at the Factory Studio Theatre until November 30.

Heaven Above Heaven Below plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace until Dec. 7.

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