Broadcast text review of: Ubu Mayor and Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week

by Lynn on September 21, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday September 19, 2014: UBU MAYOR at the Wychwood Theatre, 76 Wychwood Ave (Wychwood Barns), and FREDA AND JEM’S BEST OF THE WEEK at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until Oct. 5.

The guest host was Phil Taylor

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre talk time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. So Lynn, what’s on your radar this week?


I have two independent theatre productions that deal with current issues.

First, Ubu Mayor is written, directed and composed by Adam Seelig, the artistic director of One Little Goat theatre company that is producing it. He bills the play as a “Harmful bit of fun” and is about “politics, music and bacon”.

And then Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week by Lois Fine, a play about the modern family. Produced by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Does Ubu Mayor have anything to do with our mayor?

Funny you should ask. It’s fashioned along the lines of Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry—a play about a minging, mean, mediocrity who caused trouble.

Ubu Mayor is about a bumbling mayor named Ubu, his shifty, manipulative, bully brother named Dudu, and Ubu’s wife Huhu who is having an affair with Dudu. At the play’s opening Ubu comes home from riding his bike to find his wife and brother on the couch in a compromising position. Being the manipulator, Dudu twists the conversation around to make Ubu guilty of thinking that his wife and brother are carousing.

The wife and brother wanted the mayor to shove some legislation through council—we don’t know what it is but we sense it’s not on the up and up. The story goes off into a wild direction involving bags of cocaine; more manipulating of Ubu, in which his wife plays a prostitute and his brother plays a psychiatrist in drag. There is also the cooking of bacon—Ubu’s favourite—on a hot plate. And a reference to the Mayor having plenty to eat at home.

It sounds like a wild play.

Playwright Adam Seeling says when referencing Ubu Roi—the source material, that if you removed it from its cultural and historical context, the play was slight and really sucked. Which is a pretty apt way of describing Ubu Mayor. By disparaging the original, Seelig seems to justify this meandering, unfunny, leaden dud (Dudu) of a play. How can one satirize something that is already ludicrous—the goings on at city hall when it comes to our mayor and his brother?

Seelig also praises the original source material as well, suggesting its lousiness gives license to artists to turn up the lousy factor. The whole mind thought mystifies me but then I’ve always been mystified by One Litte Goat Theatre Company. Seelig describes his One Little Goat as North America’s only theatre company devoted to contemporary poetic theatre. I have never been able to figure out what that meant–‘contemporary poetic theatre.’ Does that mean theatre that is obscure, esoterica and impenetrable?

I have been seeing this company’s work for years. I have never been able to make head nor tail of it. I was going to quit seeing them for both our goods, but changed my mind with Ubu Mayor.

How come you changed your mind?

The cast is familiar and I thought since it’s a story I know, perhaps it will say something new. We live in hope. It’s a strong cast. Richard Harte plays Ubu the mayor with a sweet innocence. As the wayward wife, HUHU, Astrid Van Wieren is sweetness and cloying. And Michael Dufays is a swaggering, smooth, Dudu. They all sing well with Van Wieren with the best voice.

Seelig directs—ponderous, a lumbering pace and at 90 minutes it’s about an hour too long. The cast is directed to act in a cartoonish way that negates the point it seems to me. Perhaps that’s the essence of poetic theatre? If so the point escapes me.


Tell us about the modern family of Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week.


Freda and Jem are lesbians who meet at bar, fall in love and stay together for 21 years, have two kids, a son TeeJay and a daughter Sam, along the way. Then trouble appears in the relationship. They question if they love each other or not.

It seems to be told from the point of view of Jem who opens the play by standing there, in black jeans and black t-shirt and says with exuberance that she’s a butch dyke. She revels in that old fashioned descriptor. She is a kind of narrator too commenting on the progress and journey of the two women.

I like how writer, Lois Fine examines the gay relationship of two women who are initially attracted to each other for sex, then settle down to love each other. There is the decision to have children. There is the dilemma of the children in coping when their two mothers are not getting along; how it takes its toll on both kids—Teejay just doesn’t go to school. Sam just seems to be in a miserable mood for the whole of the play for some reason. She is miserable when her mothers are happy and miserable when they are quarrelling. I found Sam to be a one-noted shrew.
Couldn’t figure that out—this miserable kid is more than teenaged angst..


You originally saw this at SummerWorks in 2011. It’s been developed at Buddy’s in Bad Times Theatre. How has it evolved?


I don’t think it really has. I think the play is still very rough in its focus. It’s called Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week. Why is Jem getting the focus rather than the play being equally divided between the two of them? It certainly has not benefited from director Judith Thompson’s reimagining of it, which also adds to the lopsided imbalance of the play. This is a family drama, not an esoteric, existential treatise. So why is the set a large square raised platform covered in a red silky sheet? What is that representative of?

Jem enters down one side of the platform along with Lorraine Segato who offers over-amplified songs that add to the atmosphere, or would if one could clearly hear the words. Why that positioning? Is Segato an alter ego in song of Jem? It makes no sense because the point is not developed. While a scene is going on at the top of the platform Thompson has the two kids tumbling and somersaulting along the sides. Why? Focus pulling. There’s a bit of business at the end when each of the characters take a corner of the red sheet and flip it up in the air while still holding the corner. We all look at the beautiful looking billowing, ballooning sheet. And aside from a pretty picture, the significance is what?

Is a sense of family clear in the production?


The design by Camellia Koo—a wonderful designer ordinarily—gives no sense of the family home in this odd design. In its previous incarnation Freda, Jem and family would sit at the kitchen table thinking about the absolute best memory of the week—hence the title. They did it a few times, putting that lovely image in our imaginations. In this incarnation, they do it only once. A waste of an opportunity to deepen the emotional weight of the play.

As Freda, Diane Flacks is the most accomplished actor of the four. She has a lot of variation and subtleties in her performance. As Jem, Kathryn Haggis is all swagger and mostly grimacing at how she’s treated. In this re-written version of the play and Thompson’s redirection of it, the heart and soul of the play and certainly the title has been removed and over thought.

It doesn’t work in really telling the story.


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

>Ubu Mayor plays at the Wychwood Theatre in the Wychwood Barns at 79 Wychwood Ave until Sept. 21.

>Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week plays at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until Oct. 5, 204.

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