Reviews: The televised productions of UNHOLY and LATE NIGHT

by Lynn on June 25, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

This from the weird and wonderful world department….

The plays Unholy by Diane Flacks and Late Night by Kat Sandler deal with their subject matter as if they were created for television. Both plays premiered a few years ago: Unholy premiered at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in 2017 under the auspices of Nightwood Theatre; Late Night was produced at Zoomerhall in 2016 and was an early production of Zoomer Live.

This pandemic brings out a lot of creativity to bring us entertainment and in a moment of art imitating life, both plays were filmed and televised on June 23rd on Vision TV, (part of  Zoomermedia)  Both shows are available online.


After its initial television air time the full version is available to view online at

NOTE: I will start with a brief over-view of each play and then comment on how they translated to television.

Written by Diane Flacks
Originally Directed by Kelly Thornton

Directed for television by Bill Mantas and Ken Grunberg
Cast: Diane Flacks
Barbara Gordon
Niki Landau
Blair Williams
Bahareh Yaraghi

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

The StoryUnholy by Diane Flacks (first produced in 2017) 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. The main question for debate is: Should women abandon religion?

The Production. The stage is bare except for two desks with chairs on either side of the stage. Each desk accommodates two panellists on each side of the stage. On one side are: Liz, a lesbian, atheist, provocateur and Margaret, an excommunicated 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 are:  Yehudit, an Orthodox Jewish spiritual leader who is vociferous in her defence of women in Judaism and Maryam, a feminist Muslim lawyer.

Richard, the moderator is the only one not sitting at a desk. He roams the set freely.

Flacks shows each woman in situations away from the debate when they reveal their personal sides. And in two cases that personal side gets dangerously close.

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. Her scholarship into each woman is prodigious. The arguments are bracing, fierce and brisling. Hers is an intellect bubbling with invention, curiosity and pointed observations.

Flacks plays Liz, a woman who is the provocateur, who has lost or tossed her faith. 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 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. Yaraghi gives a performance of a woman that is poised and with purpose.

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. He represents every negative point that is made of how women are demeaned and not taken seriously by men.

Kelly Thornton directed the play pushing the action that left the audience breathless. The television version is directed by Bill Mantas and Ken Grunberg. The arguments come fast and furious. The intellectual debate reveals nimble minds. The pace is quick. But the tone of the speakers seems like one long shout. More variation is in order. I found the relentless yelling weakened the arguments. If the opponents are yelling the audience  stops listening. That’s not a good thing.  

Comment. Decibel-level concern aside, I thought it was a terrific production of a play set as a television debate presented on television as a debate. The acting from all concerned was superb.


At Zoomerhall, Zoomer Live Theatre 70 Jefferson Ave., Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Kat Sandler

Cast: Nigel Downer
Rachel Jones
Kat Letwin
Michael Musi
Alon Nashman
Maria Vacratsis

NOTE: This is my review when it first played at Zoomerhall in 2016. I will comment after this on the television version.

A creation from the gifted Kat Sandler that is confusing as to what it actually is? A TV show that wants to be a play? A play that wants to be a TV show? Both?

The Story. We are in a TV studio for the live taping of Marty O’Malley’s  final show as host of the talk show, The Early Late Show. He has been the suave host for 22 years and now he’s been pushed aside for a younger, hipper, new host, edgy comedienne, Sarah Goldberg. Sarah is introduced during the show and Marty and Sarah spend the rest of the show, sort of co-hosting.

Marty and Sarah banter, lob barbs and during the live show Sarah let’s a bombshell of a bit of news drop. The rest of the program is spent with Alanna the floor director, Davey the intern and the on stage hosts in damage control mode and trying to control the guests who get more and more out of control.

The Production as a play in a tv studio. As we fill in to the playing area a young woman sits behind the host’s desk, greeting us. We learn later she is Sarah Goldberg (Kat Letwin). We are in an actual TV studio with the audience on either side of the playing area. TV cameras and their operators are to my left. To my far right is the desk behind which is a swivel chair on which Sarah sits. To the right of the desk are two very comfy seats for the guests. There are video screens across the way above that section of audience, I’m sure behind me and above the desk so that we can all see the action, especially in close-up.

Alanna (Maria Vacratsis) and Davey (Michael Musi)  enter to organize things before the actual live show begins. This being the only live show they’ve done—it’s usually taped–emotions are high. Alanna barks to Davey to bring her a coffee. He asks what kind with what added. She tells him vaguely and he rushes off to get it and brings back a coffee not to her liking. This gag goes on with him rushing off to correct the coffee order and coming back again with the wrong kind. Very funny. Pure Kat Sandler.

Marty O’Malley  (Alon Nashman) rushes on from makeup with his shirt and jacket collar protected by paper towelling. He looks fit, tanned and dapper in his suit and polished shoes. He warms up the crowd with his easy chat. There are bits dropped about this being his last show. He’s emotional. We sense he’s been pushed out.

When the ‘show’ starts proper Marty introduces Sarah as the new host, he says she is a woman who started on the show bringing him coffee. There is a close-up of Sarah’s face, tight smile, obviously hurt by the remark. She spars back. Sarah is a noted comedienne who takes no prisoners and that includes Marty, her former boss and mentor. The banter is lively. Then Sarah says something that is shocking.

In the commercial break that follows immediately Alanna goes into full warrior-woman mode and demands that damage control begin with her new host. A guest, Kevin Lee Hicks (Nigel Downer), comes on to add to the electricity in the air. He is dressed as a sassy older woman. The hosts are told not to mention something in Hicks’ past. Naturally it’s mentioned. Matters degenerate from there.

Because the audience’s attention is focused on the ‘live TV show” going on (to my right), perhaps not noticed (and should be) is Alanna the floor director (to my left), reacting with a definitely escalating sense of emotion to all the mayhem on stage. Alanna’s reactions add another layer to a rather one-sided situation in the TV show.

Kat Sandler’s direction of her actors, including, I assume the camera angles and close-ups, keeps the pace fast. Every single actor in this production is terrific. Alon Nashman gives Marty O’Malley an elder-statesman distinction. He’s personable, charming, knows how to put on the emotion and work the audience. He also shows a sexist attitude to women. Kat Letwin plays Sarah Goldberg as an edgy, take-no-prisoners-comedienne. She has the energy of the young woman ready to take her best shot. As Alanna, the volatile floor director, Maria Vacratsis is fierce, focused and cutting. Just giving Davey her coffee order is nuanced and hilarious. Michael Musi plays Davey as a nervous, twitchy, sweet man who tries to do right and isn’t very successful. Nigel Downer as Kevin Lee Hicks is a wonderfully understated comedic actor. I’ve seen him do improve. He’s brilliant. He’s terrific here as well. And Rachel Jones does a lovely melt-down as Vivien Lawrence, Marty’s movie star wife who has taken too many anti-depressants along with good scotch to keep things on an even keel.

Comment on the play from 2016. Playwright Kat Sandler has proven herself to be a funny, provocative, perceptive writer. She creates humour from her characters, their relationships, attitudes, from situations and from her loopy sense of what’s funny. Her writing is clean, spare and lethal in the humour department—as can be seen in such Sandler works as Mustard, Liver and The Retreat. She wrote Late Night as part of the Fringe 24 hour playwriting contest, which she won. It has her trade-mark sharp, funny jabs; wild situations; and intriguing characters.

One comes to a Sandler play with high expectations. So I have to ask, what is this? What exactly is Late Night? Is it a play wanting to be a send-up of a TV show that melts down, and an American TV show at that? Why bother since we have seen plenty of these TV talk shows that inadvertently melt down all on their own and don’t need to be sent up?

Is it a TV show wanting to be a play? If so it’s a stretch that doesn’t work. Kat Sandler has peppered her play with all manner of hot button topics such as ageism, sexism, misogyny, infidelity and anti-gay banter without really fleshing out these comments more than just offhanded references. Is Late Night trying to blur the lines between TV and theatre? The only place blurry lines are useful is in an optometrist’s office and they can fix it.

The involvement of Moses Znaimer, head of Zoomermedia in this effort suggests he wants to combine some TV-theatre presence in an endeavour called “ZoomerLive!” of which Late Nightis its inaugural production. If this is the best they can do, then it’s an experiment that needs more thinking.

The Production as Television. What a difference a new viewing perspective makes. Late Night works a treat as a television show with theatrical elements with the viewing audience at a remove in their homes watching it on television. All the mayhem of The Early Late Show is presented in bright colour in full screen. The scenes supposedly backstage or not part of the “live” show are presented in black and white with a square outline of the people in the shot, in the middle of our tv screens. Clever. 

The camera work is razor sharp, flitting from character to character. We are never in doubt as to whose reaction on which we are supposed to focus.  The acting continues to be wonderful with each actor doing compelling individual work.

Produced by Zoomermedia and Brouhaha

Running Time: 90 minutes.

Available to watch online through July 8, 2020

Late Night was originally presented as a live production in ZoomerMedia’s Zoomer Hall live event space and studio and was recorded and edited for later broadcast on VisionTV.

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