Broadcast text reviews of: THE TROUBLE WITH MR. ADAMS and SHANNON 10:40 an interaction

by Lynn on October 31, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, October 30, 2015. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5FM The Trouble With Mr. Adams at the Taragon Extra Space until November 29, 2015, and Shannon 10:40, An interaction, at Videofag, 187 Augusta Ave. until November 8, 2015.

The host was Phil Taylor.

Good Friday morning. It’s Theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. What’s on your plate for this week?

I have two shows which seem joined by sexual politics. First, The Trouble with Mr. Adams at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space is by actor/writer, Gord Rand. It’s about a man named Mr. Adams who is going through a mid-life crisis and the havoc he wrecks because of it.

Then there is Shannon 10:40 an interaction. It takes place in a high school sex-education class that is disrupted when a young student, Shannon, slams a sex toy on the table and wants to talk about masturbation. Things unravel from there.

Well, a lively segment. Let’s start with The Trouble with Mr. Adams.

The trouble with Gary Adams is that he’s a 45 year old gym teacher and the volleyball coach of the girl’s team, who’s smitten by his star player, Mercedes McPfefferidge. She’s 15.

The day after the team wins the championship Mr. Adams comes home to his wife Peggy and tells her he’s leaving her and it’s for the best.

Peggy seems to know—it’s midnight; she’s in her bathrobe; and Mercedes’ parent called Peggy to tell her what their daughter told them about Gary, on the volleyball trip. Gary and Peggy had been friends with the girl’s parents.

What follows is Gary’s intense defence that nothing dirty happened. He says it frequently and with such conviction we know something is not right. And conspicuous by its absence is any question about what Gary’s definition of ‘dirty’ is. Peggy probes and probes with pointed questions as Gary continues to deny anything unseemly.

He changes his story a few times, still convinced that nothing happened, although he says that Mercedes feels the same way about him. The trouble with Mr. Adams is that the matter has escalated and he’s in trouble and needs a lawyer.

His lawyer, Barbara, puts him through the wringer to get at the truth. We find out the truth two years later in the last Act of this 80 minute production.

How’s the production?

Director Lisa Peterson has directed a tight, taut production that never seems rushed but slowly grips you.

Charlotte Deans’s spare set of two chairs, a small square table and two platforms that become a two tiered piece of furniture, a bed, sofa etc. are quickly and efficiently configured for each Act by the cast.

The play opens with Peggy and Gary staring at each other. He’s just come back from the volleyball championships in another city. She’s in her bathrobe and he’s telling her he’s leaving.

As Gary Adams, Chris Earle is buoyant at his new-found zest for living since Mercedes came bouncing into his life. He’s off-handed with Peggy. As Peggy, Philippa Domville is furious with him. While he ducks and parries to make his points, she is completely still, sharp-tongued and focused. Gary is a naive middle-aged man going through a mid-life crisis. Peggy is an adult woman with a fury.

This segues into the next scene with Gary facing his straight-backed, tight-smiling lawyer, Barbara.
At times she seems like the prosecution, she puts him through such a ringer. As Barbara, Allegra Fulton is masterful. She is calm and dangerous. She keeps chipping away and chipping away at Gary’s arrogance until we see further cracks in Gary’s story.

We know he’s been lying and he’s glib and cocky about it. We just don’t know to what extent. Barbara gives us a clue.

We finally see Mercedes in a scene set two years later. If ever there is a person who can bring Gary to his knees it’s her. As Mercedes, Sydney Owchar is confident, relaxed and knows she has the upper hand.

There is a sex scene between Peggy and her husband Gary that is vigorous and raw. Neither Peterson nor her cast play it safe. You are gripped.

In fact there is another sex scene besides the previous one. It involves Gary alone in a motel room, eating cake—it is erotic, seductive, obsessive and heart-breaking.

Peterson and her gifted cast have captured the nuances and tricky footwork of a besotted middle aged man who can’t think straight because of the young woman who has bewitched him, and the effects on all those around him.

A man going through a mid-life crisis seems like a familiar subject. Did you like the way the subject was dealt with?

Playwright Gord Rand has taken a familiar subject—the male-mid-life-crisis—filled it with cliché situations, and yet has turned it on its head. He has created Gary as a boy-man, naïve and swaggering, and yet in a strange way we feel just a touch sorry for him at his delusion and desperation.

Rand has a fine way with a phrase, clever, funny, and often zinging. He has a fine ear for how people hurt and one up each other.

The Trouble with Mr. Adams is a bracing, jaw-clenching play and it’s no trouble to recommend it.

And tell us about Shannon 10:40 an interaction.

Playwright Rob Kempson has written a very timely play because of the controversy of teaching sex education in our schools.

Shannon is a troubled, angry teenager. She’s openly gay but feels she is not understood. And she’s lonely. Her girlfriend just broke up with her.

In a sex-ed class taught by Mr. Fisher, who is an openly gay phys-ed-English teacher, Shannon decides to cause a stir. She slams a recognizable sex toy on the table and wants to talk about masturbation and its benefits. The class is disrupted. The disruption is videoed and goes viral.

Over the course of the play, both Shannon and Mr. Fisher have to explain themselves to a higher authority in the school. For Shannon, it’s her guidance teacher, Ms. McD. (as Shannon calls her), who is thought to be a lesbian. Shannon goads her but Ms. McD is not biting.

Mr. Fisher also seeks help and guidance from his friend Jenna, who also happens to be Ms. McD. Mr. Fisher wants Jenna to intervene with the principal. Mr. Fisher keeps on saying that Shannon is not the victim here. It’s him. While he has tried to be open and honest with his students, this situation has put his career on the line.

I think Playwright Rob Kempson has written a sobering play about a serious subject. And he looks at it from the points of view of the student and the teacher.

Do you think the playwright does justice to the subject?

I do. He writes in his program note that he has come to the subject with clear knowledge. Kempson is a writer, director and a teacher…he knows whereof he speaks. In the play he wanted to write about power and how it’s used.

The scenes alternate between Shannon being the speaker and then Mr. Fisher. They only have one scene in which they are interacting.

Shannon has the power to disrupt, lash out, make a statement. She has the power to goad and challenge her guidance teacher who does not rise to the bait.

Mr. Fisher seems like he has power—he’s the teacher—but in the educational system Rob Kempson shows how unprotected a teacher is; how tenuous their grip. Fisher could lose his job.

How does the production realize the play?

Rob Kempson also directs his short, sharp play. The audience is on either side of the narrow playing area.There are two chairs and one table on wheels. The scene changes are fast and aggressive as the table and chairs are re-organized by the cast of two: Hallie Saline as Shannon and Qasim Khan as Mr. Fisher. Each actor ‘acts’ with the unseen Ms McD, pleading their case, trying to win her over to their side.

While Mr. Fisher is the adult teacher and Shannon the wayward, angry student, both need the same things—acceptance, respect, honesty. Shannon has a line in which she just wanted her girlfriend to hold her hand and say that she mattered more often than not. That line is poetry and breaks your heart.

Hallie Seline plays Shannon. This is a fine, young actress who is fearless and true. She has that chip on her shoulder that makes Shannon angry and dangerous. But she is desperate for affection and for the many girls who snub her to accept her.

Mr. Fisher is played with quiet sensitivity and conviction by Qasim Khan. You can feel the vice grip on this character as he gets more and more confined and trapped in that system. He’s a good teacher who needs to be supported by the educational system and we aren’t sure that will happen.

That is the truth of this unsettling, important play.

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

The Trouble With Mr. Adams plays at the Tarragon Extra Space until November 29.

Shannon 10:40 an interaction plays at Videofag at 187 Augusta Ave. until November 8

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