Review: THERAC 25

by Lynn on April 17, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Assembly Theatre, Toronto Ont.,

Written by Adam Pettle

Directed by Jessie Fraser

Projection designer, Christopher Lewis

Sound by Aaron Collier

Costumes by Janelle Hince

Cast: Luis Fernandes

Cass Van Wyck

The Story. Moira and Alan meet in a hospital where both of them are getting radiation treatment for cancer. The machine that gives them their radiation doses is called Therac 25 hence the title. Moira has also had chemo treatments. There is an attraction between them probably in part because of their shared experience with cancer. A relationship and trust results. They are falling in love between treatments. Both have boundary issues. Alan can’t bear to be touched. Moira can’t bear to be asked how she is feeling. Love has a way of breaking down boundaries.

The Production.  Cass Van Wyck as Moira has shaved her head to show the results of Moira’s chemo treatment. She sometimes wears a toque to conceal her bald head. Alan wears a toque too, probably because it’s cold outside. He has his hair because you don’t lose it through radiation.

It’s reasonable that Van Wyck plays Moira as depressed, brooding and anxious that the treatments end. The future is uncertain for her at this point. But her attitude changes when she meets Alan in the waiting room of the hospital, waiting his turn for treatment. She flirts, she becomes bold in chatting him up.

As Alan Luis Fernandes is sweet, kind and  funny in return to Moira’s flirting. They are guarded at times but gradually lower their guard to allow the other person into their secret concerns, fears, longing. Both Van Wyck and Fernandes create characters that are believable, are fearful of the future and care deeply about each other.

The back wall of the set is white (there is no set designer listed), with an examining table and a white sheet on it. There is an effective projection design by Christopher Lewis. Moira stands with her back to the wall and projections of Therac 25 with its rays of radiation zero in on her. A soundscape of a whirring machine accompanies the projections. The image rotates and revolves suggesting the working of the machine. Other times a location is suggested—a mall, a café etc. Occasionally one gets the sense all these projections are a touch too much but one copes

Jessie Fraser has directed Therac 25 with efficiency, clarity and has not fallen into the trap of sentimentality. I do have a quibble. It is staged in such a way that the audience doesn’t know the play is over. Both Van Wyck and Fernandes have their last scene, the lights fade and they leave the stage. And there the audience sits, watching an empty stage. The lights change to the illumination of the stage when the audience first came into the theatre and still the audience looks at an empty stage. The actors are not coming out for a bow. The audience still waits until finally someone at the back of the theatre—and I would wager, someone connected with the production—begins to applaud. The rest of the audience joins in and then Cass Van Wyck and Luis Fernandes come out together to take their shy bows and go off awkwardly, as if they aren’t sure what to do either. No, don’t do that to an audience. If the audience doesn’t know the show is over, they don’t know they must applaud to cue the actors they can now come and take a bow. Too awkward. The audience has to clearly know the show is over. Enough with this waiting for them to twig and then applaud. The audience would know they should applaud when the actors take their bow. Neat. Clear.

 Comment. Theac 25 is Adam Pettle’s semi-autobiographical play about his treatment when he got cancer in 1995. It’s a deeply emotional play. He has realized the black humour that one uses to protect oneself from the unknown—will they get better or not. It’s a solid production, except for my quibble about the awkward ending.

And can I please reiterate my pet peeve about what’s needed for a programme if you are a small theatre company such as Unit 102 Actors Company? The programme is your best opportunity of publicity but if you don’t have the needed information on the programme then you are denying yourself a good way of getting the word out. For example, no where on this programme does it list the name of the theatre and the address where the play is playing. Doncha think that would be a good idea?! WHERE IS THE PLAY AT, EH? No where on the programme does it give the dates of the run. No where does it have a box office number or website. On the cover there is the title of the play, the name of the playwright, the director’s name and the two actors. At the bottom is the nice logo of Unit 102 Actors Company and a whole lot of white space that could be used for the missing information. Come on, folks. This is important to you. Please do better.

Produced by Unit 102 Actors Company

Closes: April 21, 2018.

Running Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, approx.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Vargo April 17, 2018 at 3:20 pm

Dear Lynn Slotkin,

Just curious about your programme note. I am unclear about how that information on the programme helps with publicity; can you clarify? I mean, maybe if one of the patrons hands their programme over to someone else outside the theatre? But why would they give away their souvenir?

By the time you receive the programme you are already at the theatre, so no need to know where you already are; you have indeed made it! And since you arrived on time, no need to be reminded when it starts either, especially since you are early and sitting in the theatre before the show has started with the programme freshly in your hands. You also would have had to buy a ticket first before a programme is handed to you, so no need to know the box office number or website to re-buy that ticket.

There are postcards of the show which have all the information you feel is supposed to be on the programme. They are at the box office if you wish to take some. It works like this: the postcards are given out all around for publicity by both the company and anyone else who visits the theatre and picks some up. (And they are pretty neat if you ask me: there’s one with Moira on it and also one of Alan too – like collectables.) There is also a lovely poster showing all that information in the window of the theatre for passersby, not to mention all the social media platforms.

If you have any further questions about programme info and publicity, please feel free to ask. I do hope I have helped cure your pet peeve.