by Lynn on November 26, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Streetcar Crowsnest, Carlaw and Dundas St. E., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Ellie Moon

Directed by Sarah Kitz

Lighting by Imogen Wilson

Composition and sound by Ali Berkok

Cast: Michael Ayres

Ellie Ellwand

Charlie Gould

Theatre as therapy.

 The Story. Kate and her boyfriend Kyle are having a quiet evening at home. She’s writing in a note book and he’s building a model of something medieval. Kate muses on a recent Facebook post about an ‘hilarious’ mean obituary some adult children did of a family member they didn’t like, who died. Kate muses on doing the same thing with her estranged mother, dying of cancer.

Kate has haunting memories of how her mother abused and insulted her when she was a kid. Kate has contempt for her mother’s notoriety as a person who works with people who have been abused.  Kate’s mother and grandmother were sexually assaulted as children, yet she says her mother then assaulted and abused her as a child. Her mother’s hypocrisy galls her.  Kate has cut herself off from her family including her younger sister, Ruby. We hear from Kate that Ruby has no memory of Kate’s abuses. We hear from Kate that her sister wasn’t abused by their mother. We learn Kate was raised by her father.

Kyle is supportive and encouraging. He is the sweetest, most agreeable person who occasionally gently offers a different point of view. Kate shoots that down.

Kate says that she’s given into hyperbole. She might have miss-remembered but seems adamant that her mother damaged her profoundly when she (Kate) was a little girl. Kate can hardly wait to get even and so plans to write her mother’s obituary full of rage and disgust.

Then late one night Ruby shows up. Ruby tells Kate their mother loves her (Kate) and wants to see her. More importantly Ruby offers the other side of the story that this play desperately needs.

 The Production.  There is no credit for a set designer so I assume that Suzie Balogh, the Production Manager created the homey set of Kate (Charlie Gould) and Kyle’s (Michael Ayres) Leslieville apartment of a couch, some paintings on the wall, a table in front of the couch, some wood chairs and two very nice rugs on the floor.

Kyle is carefully building a model of a medieval ‘castle’ using hard plastic pieces that rattle in the box. Kate looks up from writing in her journal? Notebook? Do I detect annoyance? Kate is gleeful at the mean-spirited Facebook post and tells Kyle she would love to do the same thing. Kyle, ever clear-thinking doesn’t tell Kate not to do it but to think about what the outcome might be. Kate promises she won’t post it to Facebook. But playwright Ellie Moon has her repeat it so many times and dwells on writing it so often that one naturally assumes that Kate will write it and post it without thinking of the consequences.

This naturally leads into Kate musing on her mother and what her mother allegedly did to her when Kate was a young child. Kate is consumed with remembering, harboring mean thoughts, wishing her mother ill. Kate has cut herself off from her family (her mother and younger sister Ruby). I love how director Sarah Kitz has Charlie Gould as Kate pace the room, thinking and verbalizing her thinking like a torrent of haunted thoughts. (I smile when it looks like Kate, Kyle and later Ruby deliberately walk around the largest rug and not on it). There is a lot of tactile activity between Kyle and Kate. They touch, hug, cuddle and indicate a loving relationship. Sarah Kitz also has them circle each other as they walk around the space. Michael Ayres as Kyle is gentle, supportive, accommodating and really an enabler for Kate’s behaviour.

Kate thinks her family is hateful and that Kyle’s family is almost perfect. He gets along with his sister. His parents are loving and love Kate. But then Kate let’s drop that Kyle’s sister says that apparently their father (Kyle’s and hers) made a pass at one of the sister’s friends. On the basis of this information Kate pegs Kyle’s father as ‘a creep’ although he never ‘hit on’ her.  Kyle gives little resistance to this conclusion about his father.

Kate’s pronouncements are swift, blunt and unmovable. As Charlie Gould as Kate flits around the room or even sits still next to Kyle, her eyes dart about, parsing out her thoughts, pondering them as she talks, she never looks at Kyle except at the end of a thought, almost compelling him to agree with her. Charlie Gould is playing an absolutely odious character in Kate, and she is doing it with steely confidence and never flinches to soften her. Wonderful work.  Is Kate odious because of a real trauma, or because she’s just using what might be a made up memory and ‘playing’ everybody around her?

Then Ruby arrives at 11 pm. Ellie Ellwand as Ruby is direct, mature (even though she is five years younger than her sister Kate), clear-thinking and seemingly together. We learn quickly that Kate has blocked Ruby’s phone number so Ruby felt she had to come to deliver the news that their mother loved Kate and wanted to see Kate before she died.

Ruby challenges Kate about her memories. Ruby says she never saw any abuse even though she was much younger when it was supposed to have happened. Ruby herself was never abused. And so questions about what really happened to Kate when she was a child appear to us. Is Kate telling the truth?

Ruby is the one who asks the question we all have been thinking while we listen to Kate’s endless ranting about how she has been damaged—“is she getting help?” Is she seeing a professional to help her? Kate skims over the question. She tells her sister she’s in a few support groups—on line. Are we really supposed to take this character seriously?

(spoiler alert, sorry) Matters escalate and Kate takes out her frustrations on Ruby. If this isn’t a cue to leave a volatile situation then I don’t know what is. Yet Ruby stays. Why?

The play ends with a scene that’s all warm and fuzzy and is so not earned when one considers the whole of this unbalanced play.

It’s so tempting to step outside of the play and consider the headlines of horror that we read about concerning childhood abuse and accept them to explain Kate rather than expecting the playwright to do a better job in writing the character.

Comment. Oh dear. Where to begin.

Some helpful hints when evaluating a play or character etc. We know about a character from what they say, do and what people say about them.


“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side and the truth.”

(From Helen Slotkin, my lovely, late Mother).


“You must always consider the source of a statement—if the source is honourable you are trust them; if they are a liar you are wary.”

(ditto, From Helen Slotkin, my lovely late Mother.)

Therefore, what to make of Kate. Was she abused as a child? Is she traumatized by it? Is she making it up? She says that she gives in to hyperbole and perhaps fantasy. Is she telling the truth? I question that? She examines the minutiae of her arguments from all sides as if she were looking at them under a microscope.  Yet when it comes to ‘trashing’ Kyle’s father because of something she heard from his sister’s friend, she does it without questioning him for his side of the story, as if it wasn’t important. Do we trust a reference like Kate? I don’t think so. Kate takes a superior tone with Ruby when Kate corrects her grammar. Really? Kate, who peppers her speech with the annoying and useless word “like” (like, I might post that obit to, like, Facebook, and, like, see what happens,…ugh.) that person is going to correct another person’s grammar? Huh?

All the buzz words are used, “abuse”, “Harvey Weinstein”, “#metoo”, “childhood trauma”. At times I think Ellie Moon is loading her play with the latest horrors of the day without writing a play that supports them in the context of Kate’s memories. And as I said at the top, this seems like theatre as therapy.

I’m grateful for Ruby even if she appears in the last ten minutes of the play. We need her because she offers us the other side of the story, a clear perception of what did or didn’t happen.  She is smart, loving and patient and sees the need to break through to Kate. It’s just that her presence comes too late in the play to make sense. Why is Ruby there? As a device? If so it should be thought out again. We have been told that Kate gets updates about her mother from Woody, her step-father. He can’t leave his wife’s side, but surely he would have told Kate that her mother loved her and wanted to see her.

I don’t mind spending time in a theatre with characters who are odious—we do it all the time—and certainly I don’t mind it when that odious character is so well acted here (the whole cast is fine). My concern with What I Call Her is that the issue is taking the place of sound playwriting. Ellie Moon needs to revisit, edited ruthlessly and re-examine What I Call Her to clearly decide what she wants to actually say and the characters she wants to create to say it.

An In Association Production in partnership with Crow’s Theatre

Opened: Nov. 21, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 8, 2018

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

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