Review: UNHOLY

by Lynn on January 28, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Diane Flacks
Directed by Kelly Thornton
Set and costumes by Lindsay C. Walker
Lighting by Bonnie Beecher
Music and sound by Richard Feren
Projections by Laura Warren
Cast: Diane Flacks
Barbara Gordon
Niki Landau
Blair Williams
Bahareh Yaraghi

A bracing examination of women in religion that is unsettling, thought-provoking and timely.

The Story. Unholy by Diane Flacks is about misogyny towards women in religion. It takes the form of a televised debate between two teams of women—each side has two women. There is a male moderator who poses the questions that each side debates, and offers some cheesy humour he finds clever. The audience decides the winner.

On one side is Liz, a provocateur and Margaret the former nun. We learn that Margaret worked in a hospital and had to make a terrible decision about an expectant mother and her unborn child. That decision cost her her place in the Catholic church.

On the other side is Yehudit, an orthodox Jew who is vociferous in her defence of women in Judaism and Maryam, a devout Muslim. So Diane Flacks explores questions of faith and conscience, misogyny in religion, marriage and independence and a whole raft of provocative questions. Flacks looks at the place of women in various religions from the point of view of an orthodox Jew, a Muslim, a former nun and a woman who rejects all faith and questions the faith of the other women.

The Production. Lindsay C. Walker has created a simple set of two desks on either side of the stage. Each desk accommodates the two debaters of each side. Moderator, Richard Morris, roams between the two desks, or perches on a stool stage left.

Director Kelly Thornton keeps the pace zipping along but gives the piece breathing room so we can absorb the minutiae of the argument. And the cast bring out not only the brains but the hearts of the characters.

Flacks shows each woman in situations away from the debate, when they reveal their personal sides. In these scenes the women get up from behind the desk and walk freely, often facing us as they speak or when they interact with the other characters and get personal. And in two cases that personal side gets dangerously close. I like it when the audience is unsettled.

Flacks plays Liz, a woman who is the provocateur, who has lost or tossed her faith—perhaps Flacks is playing herself. She is tough, focused and fearless in debate as she challenges the other debaters.

Barbara Gordon is Margaret, the former nun. She has a soft, caring way, and certainly a wounded look when recalling her decision which cost her her place in the church,

Niki Landau plays Yehudit the orthodox Jew with a grace and serenity, but she also has a back bone of steel when debating Liz. Bahareh Yaraghi plays Maryam, the Muslim, again with a forthrightness. She has defences, but then are soon slowly removed.

Questions of Niqab and Hijab are debated. When Maryam’s situation becomes involved with another debater, matters becomes complicated.

And finally, Blair Williams plays Richard the moderator with smoothness and a touch of condescension.

Well done all around.

Comment. Diane Flacks went to Hebrew school for 13 years and certainly learned about the place of women in her studies. There is a prayer that men say “Thank you God for not making me a woman.” Flacks became obsessed with the idea of women in religion. She officially rejected faith when her youngest son spent most of his first year of life in the hospital with life-threatening challenges. But besides being a devoted mother, Flacks is a devoted, astute and inspiring playwright and loosing her faith and the religion of those she knows warranted exploration, so Unholy was born.

It’s a fascinating play.

Nightwood Theatre presents:

Opened: Jan. 19, 2017
I saw it: Jan. 21, 2017.
Closes: Feb. 5, 2017.
Cast: 5; 1 man, 4 women.
Running Time: approx. 2 hours.

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