by Lynn on July 22, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two shows were broadcast on Friday, July 22, 2016. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm: Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning at the Blyth Festival until Aug. 6, 2016 and The Taming of the Shrew in Withrow Park for this week.

The host was Phil Taylor.

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin our Theatre Critic and Passionate Playgoer. What do you have this week?

I have two plays as usual. First from the Blyth Festival in Blyth Ontario, we have Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning by Christopher Morris, in which two parents must make a terrible decision about their son Brendon.

And the other is The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare of course, playing in Withrow Park, produced by the Driftwood Theatre Company. This is a Taming of the Shrew with a provocative twist.

Let’s get started with Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning. What’s the terrible decision the parents have to make?

A bit of background. The Blyth Festival does original Canadian plays usually about stories reflecting the area around Blyth. Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning is a true story. Matthew Dinning was the eldest of two sons of Laurie and Lincoln Dinning. Matthew always wanted to help people. In his early 20s he wanted to go to Afghanistan, join the military and help, not necessarily to fight, but that of course would be involved. He was assigned with five other soldiers to protect the general.

Matthew was killed with many of his colleagues in a road side bombing. He was 23. We learn this early in the first act. The military has come calling because Matthew’s younger brother Brendon also wants to go to Afghanistan. The military feels that since the parents have lost so much, they should have their say and make the decision about whether Brendon should go or not. The play deals with the problem from all sides and how everybody is affected with it—meaning his parents and Brendon.

And we see flashbacks with Matthew. But the play really focuses on his mother, Laurie.


How so?

Well Laurie is grieving and angry as she takes her journey. She decided to walk the Camino with Matthew—meaning she took some of his ashes with her on her journey.

Occasionally he appears to her. So we get a sense of his relationship with his mother. She has to cope with her husband Lincoln who does not grieve in the same way. He is a police officer. So in a way Laurie is raging against a world on her own, but she really has support. In Christopher Morris’s play it’s easy to see how married couples split up when a child dies, but he never makes it simple.

Does the play prove its case?

Act One sets out the details and Act II expands on them and the characters. I initially was concerned that we hear from everybody around Matthew why he wanted to go to Afghanistan but not clearly from him. We get that in Act II. We also hear that his brother Brendon always did what his brother Matthew did. That does not seem a good reason to risk your life to go to Afghanistan. But again, Christopher Morris is too good a playwright to make the problem simple. He fleshes out the reasons and the characters and makes this a complex play full of dilemmas and compassion.

Does the production live up to the play?

It does. The set (Gillian Gallow) is a bit askew, a window is embedded in the wall and it’s on a tilt, as are appliance and cupboards. Here is the world of the Dinning family, unsettled and unbalanced as one would expect after such a shattering experience. Gil Garrett has directed this with care and imagination. When Major Boucher, comes to speak to the parents regarding Brendan, Garrett places the man in a chair with his back to us. The parents face him.

This is a wonderfully clever move because the actor, Jesse laVercombe, playing Major Boucher, also plays Matthew—with boyish swagger. So when we don’t see his face initially as the Major, it’s not confusing when he comes on later as Matthew.

The acting is strong and sensitive as one might expect. But Rebecca Auerbach deserves special attention as Laurie. This is a searing performance of a mother in true pain at the love and loss of her son, and the terrible decision the parents have to make regarding their other young son and his desire to go to Afghanistan. That is conveyed in Auerbach’s performance.

I’m sure a lot of parents have been in this position when their young sons want to go to a war zone to help or fight. Gripping play.

Tell us about the always problematic, The Taming of the Shrew.

This production as we learned last week when I interviewed Jeremy Smith, the director, is set in 1989 in Toronto during Pride. Always problematic– a man, Petruchio has decided to tame and marry the shrew named Katharine.

As the oldest daughter of Baptista (now a women in this production) Katharine must marry first in order for her young sister Bianca to marry—and Bianca has a lot of suitors, including one, Lucentio, whose gender seems a mystery. Bianca is still smitten with the sexually mysterious Lucentio. When Katharine meets Petruchio sparks do fly. Petruchio is domineering and smarmy to her. She is angry and fights back.

But Jeremy Smith also creates a concept in which there is subtle consensual games playing in the area of dominant/submissive role playing between Katharine and Petruchio. Jeremy Smith is always careful in his cutting of the plays for his productions.
Here he has changed/bent genders.

Does it work?

I think for the most part it does. I was won over. I’ve seen a lot of Jeremy Smith’s productions of Shakespeare and I always find that his main aim is to serve the play. With The Taming of the Shrew he also reflects our changing world, albeit 1989, and he uses a play that has always been vilified. I think it’s a bold idea and I buy into it.

And after seeing some lousy acting of Shakespeare when I went to High Park recently, I was grateful for this production of The Taming of the Shrew. The acting is strong and they have a handle on the language and how to say it.

I know the setting is rustic—in a park with all manner of distractions going on and perhaps some slack should be given—but really, if you are going to put on a play by Shakespeare, I don’t think it unreasonable for the actors to have some facility with the language.

As Petruchio, Geoffrey Armour has an impish charm and a commanding presence. He’s not overbearing and plays into the role playing of submissive and dominant. As Katharine, Siobhan Richardson is tough and but malleable. Her Katharine matches Petruchio point for point. Together they might play the submissive/dominant game but they do it as equal, consensual partners.

I was particularly intrigued by the sexually mysterious Lucentio played with swaggering style by Fiona Sauder. This is a character who keeps us guessing but truly engaged.

This company does theatre all over the province and is at Withrow Park just off the Danforth this week. I think both shows—Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning and The Taming of the Shrew are worth a visit….

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

Our Beautiful Sons: Remembering Matthew Dinning plays at the Blyth Festival until August 6, 2016.

The Taming of the Shrew plays in Withrow Park until the end of the week and at various stops in Ontario.

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