SummerWorks round-up to date.

by Lynn on August 18, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

As SummerWorks winds down this weekend for another year, here is a round-up of some of the ones I was able to see:

Chicken Grease is a Nasty Business

Written by Michael Miller
Directed by Kim Blackwell
Starring: Dian Marie Bridge
Sedina Fiati
Lili Francks
Karen Glave
Christian Lloyd
Jade O’Keeffe
Jeremiah Sparks
Danny Waugh

Michael Miller has written a wild, sprawling comedy about a family of loving misfits. Modestine, the adoptive mother of two now grown men, has just adopted an AIDS baby in the hopes it will bring her two sons home. There is an impending marriage; surprise pregnancies; a case of love at first sight; and the prospect of fried chicken.

Kim Blackwell moves the proceedings along nicely; the cast handles the humour with style, with Christian Lloyd giving a standout performance as one of the sons.


Written by David Benjamin Tomlinson
Directed by Clinton Walker
Starring: Aurora Browne
Elley-Ray Hennessy
Ryan Kelly
Shane MacKinnon
Tim Post
Carolyn Taylor
David Benjamin Tomlinson

A lame send-up of every cheesy-an-escaped-lunatic-is-terrorizing-people-movie. The cast seem to be having all the fun. As the cast is named but not the characters they play I won’t mention anybody. Did they think naming the characters would give away some surprises? Sigh.


By Bruce Barton
Directed by Bruce Barton
Performed and Co-directed by Martin Julien
Michelle Polak
Sound by Lyon Smith
Set by Michael Spence and Bruce Barton

What scares you? Do you believe in ghosts? What memories do you have? The audience is asked some of these questions by two personable and sensitive actors (Martin Julien and Michelle Polak) in this exploration of various forms of ghost stories and intimacy. The audience moves around the room following the action and dialogue of the two actors. The encounters with the actors are not threatening in any way. If anything, the audience is gently coaxed into letting some inhibitions go, especially when dancing.

The sound by Lyon Smith enhances the experience. The set by Michael Spence and Bruce Barton, including the rain outside on certain windows, is inspired.

Tragedy: A Tragedy

By Will Eno
Directed by Stewart Arnott
Performed by Don Allison,
Benjamin Clost,
Miranda Edwards,
Cyrus Lane
Christopher Staunton

A TV newscaster and his crew of reporters’ nightmare: reporting on a disaster in which there is no news to report but still having to fill the airtime with something. Writer Will Eno has captured the mindless dialogue that results from these encounters we have all seen on TV. Night has fallen. Is that the disaster that has happened? We don’t know. A house is deserted. Did the people flee because of something? We don’t know. An eyewitness was there but can’t articulate what he saw. The legal expert for the TV station weighs, in reading vacuous missives from the ineffectual governor. A reporter keeps losing contact with the main station or is distracted and doesn’t listen to the questions. Another reporter talks about his personal situation. The dapper, unflappable TV anchor tries holding it together. In a sense it’s the Seinfeld of TV news….nothing has happened it seems.

Stewart Arnott has expertly directed this production so that the technical aspects of every missed cue of the reporters and TV anchor are given its humorous due. This is a production full of nuance, subtlety and sly humour. The cast is a dream.

The Widow

By Amir Al-Azraki
Directed by Mark Cassidy
Starring: Christine Aziz
Nessya Dayan
Omar Hady
Jack Messinger
Youness Robert-Tahiri

From the program: “ Nour, a widow from the 2003 Iraq War, initiates an affair with an outspoken young teacher, Samir. After receiving threats from a religious militia group, Samir flees Iraq, leaving Nour to deal with the consequences. As a jobless refugee in Canada, Samir returns to Nour in Iraq despite his family’s warnings.”

Nour also becomes pregnant by Samir. He refuses to marry her and when he finds out she’s pregnant he suggests an abortion which is appalling to her.

Even for the accommodating jury at SummerWorks The Widow needs considerably more thinking, dramaturgy and another re-write or three. I did not believe any of the characters or situations of this play.

We are told repeatedly of the bad treatment of women in post-Saddam Iraq. Yet we are expected to believe Nour would have the confidence and daring to initiate the affair with Samir. He is adamant that he cannot marry her but doesn’t share with her or the audience exactly why. After Nour tells Samir she is pregnant (and later she tells his mother) we hear nothing else about it for the rest of the play. Did I miss something? Did she have the abortion? Did she lose the baby? No one refers to the pregnancy again. Bizarre.

There is a coincidence when Nour meets someone that defies credibility and weakens an already weak play.

The production is very fussy. Scenes are short and director Mark Cassidy seems to think that extensive scene changes involving chairs on and off, tables re-arranged etc. are justified. Too time consuming. A simpler way of solving the scene changes is in order. The acting is almost uniformly unremarkable, with actors either mumbling their lines, speaking without inflection or over emoting.

There is an idea for a play in The Widow, but it certainly has not been realized here.

Unknown Soldier

Written and directed by Jonathan Seinen
Starring: Jeff Ho

From the program: “Unknown Soldier is a fictional play, inspired by the actions of Chelsea Manning, a US Army Private who was recently sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking military documents and diplomatic cables to Wikileaks. This play contains text from the transcripts of her pre-trial hearings, court martial proceedings, public statements, and online chats.”

Playwright Jonathan Seinen has changed the central character to a young man who is gay and his sexuality reveals more secrets. He worked in an area of the military that gave him access to confidential documents. He decided to release them on the internet when he saw pictures of innocent people killed by military fire. He did it for the good of the country. He was caught; brought to trial; found guilty and is now in a cell serving his time while reading his charges, verdicts and the number of years he might be in prison. He seems shocked at this.

This is an important subject but writer-director Jonathan Seinen seems interested in too many stories and not enough time to develop them properly. We never know why the soldier enlisted. All he says is that one day he felt the sun on his face and let his long hair fall back on the beach and the next day he enlisted, where presumably his long hair was cut very short. More details are needed to give the story context. His reasons for stealing the information and putting it on the internet also seem very impetuous—he sees pictures of an innocent family killed by mistake by the military and that’s the impetus? After the trial the solider is stunned at the charges and how long he could serve time for being found guilty. Again, credibility seems stretched. The soldier’s sexuality is explored as is his sensual enjoyment of music, dancing and seduction. The problem again is that the one hour play seems cramped with information. Another pass and a more focused view would be helpful.

As the soldier Jeff Ho is lithe, graceful, perhaps a bit overly emotional but always compelling.

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