Review: Shadows

by Lynn on April 19, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer


At Videofag, 187   Augusta St, Toronto, Ont. Written by Margo MacDonald. Directed by Diana Fajrajsl. Set and lighting by Rae Powell. Costumes by Judith DeBoer. Sound by Diana Fajrajsl. Starring: Sarah Finn and Margo MacDonald.

Produced by Parry Riposte Productions. Plays at Videofag until April 19.

Eva LeGallienne was a British born, American citizen, who was a towering presence in the American theatre in the first half of the twentieth Century. She was known primarily as an actress but was also a formidable producer, having formed the Civic Repertory Theatre in the 1920s, and been instrumental in the creation of American Repertory Theatre, in 1946.

But she also had a shadow life because she was a lesbian. It’s this life, with references to her acting, that is the focus of Shadows, a fascinating play by Margo MacDonald. The play takes place between 1926 and 1935 and flips back and forth within that time. During these nine years LeGallienne had some of her most notable theatre triumphs. She was a celebrated Hedda Gabler; a plucky Peter Pan. She met Josephine Hutchinson, a young actress who was married; asked her to be in her company; guided her into becoming a good actress; fell in love with her and asked her to leave her husband and come live with her. Hutchinson did move in with LeGallienne. This caused people to refer to Hutchinson as a ‘shadow actress’, code for lesbian. Hutchinson’s husband sued for divorce naming LeGallienne as the reason.

While LeGallienne was openly gay within her community of women she did not publicize it. So when the newspapers got the story of the divorce, she was mortified. She drank excessively. A fire broke out in her house and LeGallienne suffered terrible burns to her hands and face. The recovery was slow and painful. Through it all Hutchinson stayed with her.

The shadows of the title are the many and various aspects of LeGallienne’s life she wanted to hide, her demons, her sexuality, her relationships. Both women were unfaithful over time to the other. At one point in the play LeGallienne rails at Hutchinson for her various male lovers, saying “Your desire for men is the gun on the mantelpiece of my life!” I’m not sure if this is an actual quote from LeGallienne or from the imagination of MacDonald, but despite its purple hew it certainly is a vivid comment.

MacDonald certainly gives us an equally vivid picture of LeGallienne in her performance. The voice is strong—and one could imagine that with her ‘inside’ voice, LeGallienne could be heard at the back of the largest theatre, as MacDonald was in the small confines of Videfag. MacDonald shows us a woman who was controlling, tender, considerate, bullying, overbearing, wounded, lonely, haunted and confident in her gifts.

Equally as fine is Sarah Finn as Josephine Hutchinson. Hutchinson is a more demure woman, softer, watchful and knowing of the mood shifts of LeGallienne. Both women knew how to be alluring to the other. At first Hutchinson is awkward and tentative when she meets the great LeGallienne, but she eventually eases into a confidence. Finn’s performance is full of nuance and subtleties.

Director Diana Fajrajsl has directed this beautifully. The stage is a postage stamp but with her careful and strong direction she and her cast have shown us the huge world of this icon of the American stage and the various shadows that went along with it. Bravo to Margo MacDonald for reminding us of the importance of Eva LeGallienne.


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