by Lynn on March 23, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Andrew Shaver
Set and Costumes by Hanna Puley
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Sound by Brian Kenny
Starring: Matthew Barber
Martha Burns
Molly Flood
Anna Hardwick
Jade Hassounné
Jonathan Higgins
Karen Knox
Tony Nappo
Trent Pardy
Anand Ranjaram
Noah Reid
Katie Swift

An eclectic group of one act plays about the search for love, by John Patrick Shanley, the master story-teller.

The Stories. A Woman is a Secret is the umbrella title of six one act plays by Tony and Oscar Award winning playwright, John Patrick Shanley (of Doubt, Moonstruck, Savage in Limbo fame). They vary in tone, form and focus. There are the fanciful “French Waitress” (in which a couple arrive at a restaurant and the man gets more and more agitated by the disdainful French waitress, until the man’s girlfriend and the waitress wear him down) and “Tennessee” (an aimless young man wants an older, wiser woman to tell his fortune). “A Tiny Tragedy” is sexually charged in which a stylish woman comes on to the cool bartender and each play the other until the inevitable conclusion. “Last Night in the Garden I Saw You” finds a newly-wed, bored woman facing her jilted lover and trying to explain herself while he philosophizes about their relationship. In “Poland” a rich man has picked up a sultry Polish woman at a basketball game and taken her home to his mansion. She waxes poetic about the search for love while telling him of her sexual prowess. He just wants to get into her pants. And finally, “Banshee” is about an Irish fairy who appears from the bottom of the garden of a school teacher, sick with the flu, who wants him to give her a baby, in the biblical sense.

The Production. Playwright, John Patrick Shanley himself has picked the songs sung during the show. Matthew Barber as the Maestro enters through the archway, guitar in hand, flashy jacket, slim black pants and white shoes, and sings “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,“ definitely the theme of the show. He will sing other songs in the same vein after each play, but concludes with a reprise of the song.

Designer, Hanna Puley has created a set that looks like a forgotten or unused patio with chairs around the upstage sides and leaves scattered on the ground. Upstage there is a simple archway suggesting that weddings might have taken place here, or it just could be an entrance to the patio. Downstage is a simple bar with stools.

Andrew Shaver has directed each play with wit, humour, whimsy and subtlety. Each couple comes through the archway together, except in the case of “Banshee” in which Genevieve, the Irish fairy, sidesteps it and goes around the archway; a bit of impishness that speaks volumes.

Most of the time Shaver guides his actors to be as outlandish as the part requires, but “Tiny Tragedy” is another thing altogether. The couple, Sparkle the stylish woman (in a sleek red dress) and Hank the cool bartender (shirt, vest) face each other in the archway. He carefully loops a string of pearls twice around her neck. She puts his fedora on his head. They walk down to the bar. She sits on a stool, legs crossed provocatively. As Hank, Trend Pardy talks slowly, with a quiet, low voice, pausing with simmering seduction with every sentence. As Sparkle, Molly Flood primps and gushes. She is also coy. The sexual tension between the two builds.

At the piano, adding the subtlest of accompaniment is Noah Reid, in sunglasses. He is joined by Matthew Barber on guitar, also wearing sunglasses. In fact when the couples (for the most part) finish their scenes they go upstage to sit in the chairs to watch the rest of the show. The men watch wearing sunglasses.

The acting from this company is very fine. Noah Reid is an exasperated lawyer in “French Waitress” getting more and more frustrated as his girlfriend Pamela, played by Karen Knox is more and more stubborn. The woman causing this schism is Blanche, the French waitress, played with languid insouciance by Anna Hardwick. Later in “Poland” Ms Knox will play Kasia, a sexual predator apparently looking for love. Right. In “Banshee” Tony Nappo plays Malcolm, consumed with flu, who is dazed and confused and then smitten, when Genevieve comes wafting up from the bottom of his garden. It’s hard not to see why. Genevieve is played by Martha Burns, serious, impish, charming and disarming. Malcolm hasn’t got a chance. The whole evening is full of wonderful acting.

Comment. At one time there was a seventh one act play in this collection but playwright John Patrick Shanley took it out of the mix. He expanded it to a full length play and got it produced on Broadway in 2014. The result was Outside Mullingar, a delicate, sweet play about love overcoming family feuds and shyness. The remaining six one act plays are a variation on the search for love, as per Shanley’s program note. In any case these one act plays, as written, are whimsical, esoteric, philosophical, confusing in their intent in some cases, and crystal clear in others. As a result they vary in levels of success with “Tennessee,” about the young man who wants an older woman to tell his future, being the weakest and “Banshee” about the fairy and the schoolteacher being the strongest. The rest float somewhere in the middle.

It’s quite a coup for the three producing indie companies to produced this world premiere of A Woman is a Secret. That they are so well produced and acted is a bonus.

Rip Jaw Productions and the Storefront Theatre in association with SideMart Theatrical Grocery present:

Opened: March 20, 2015
Closes: April 5, 2015
Cast: 12: 7 men, 5 women
Running Time: 2 hours.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Arlene Cohen March 25, 2015 at 4:49 pm

I saw this play and thought it was excellent. I was charmed by the stories, thrilled by the excellent acting and I swooned every time Matthew Barber stood up to sing. I high recommend it.


2 Arlene Cohen March 25, 2015 at 4:51 pm

Forgot to add the direction by Andrew Shaver is everything this reviewer said and more! First class all the way.