By Timothy Findley
Directed by Dennis Garnhum
Play summary | Globe and Mail review
From the program:
A total eclipse of the moon interrupts a dinner party attended by three men and four women. As the evening progresses, the pattern of relationships among the seven - at first unclear - begins to emerge from the shadows of the past.
The Globe and Mail's review:
Written by Timothy Findley
Directed by Dennis Garnhum
Starring Brent Carver, Brenda Robins, Stephen Ouimette and Karen Robinson
Written by Celia McBride
Directed by Michael Shamata
Starring Paul Soles, Elizabeth Shepherd and Kimwun Perehinec
At the Studio Theatre in Stratford, Ont.
At one of the many climatic moments of Shadows, a one-act play written
by Timothy Findley shortly before his death in June, a wife cries to her husband
"Who the hell is us?" Sitting out in the long-suffering audience, one is sorely
tempted to retort: "Well, dear, we wish to hell we knew."
Seldom has a less plausible group of people been assembled for a drama than
the shallow crew Findley created for this piece, which was commissioned to help
launch the Stratford Festival's new Studio Theatre. And that, it turns out, is
precisely the point, as a wicked Findley plays little theatrical games with
Ben (Brent Carver), a successful playwright, and his wife Shelagh (Brenda
Robins) are giving a dinner party for old friends, former lovers and new
recruits. It is late, the guests have just witnessed a lunar eclipse, and now
Ben decides they should all play his own personal version of Truth or
Consequences. Each guest must reveal a deeply personal secret and the others
must guess whether or not it is true. From actors Lily (Karen Robinson) and Dan
(Stephen Ouimette), from stage designer Kate (Chick Reid), from photographer
Owen (Gordon Rand) and from student Meredith ((Kimwun Perehinec), there follows
an increasingly outrageous but seemingly heartfelt string of stories featuring
abortion, infertility, homosexuality and much sexual cheating amongst these
Not only are their stories unbelievable, their characters are contradictory
and their relationships confused. Just when you start to wonder how Findley, a
competent and interesting playwright if never perhaps a great one, could
possibly have written something this bad, he pulls his rabbit out of his hat. I
won't say what exactly the surprise is, but it is not merely the guests' stories
but also the dinner party and the game-playing that are not to be believed.
The house lights come up and the fourth wall is shattered. Or at least that
is what is supposed to happen but if the ever-charming leadership of the impish
Carver in the role of Ben makes the exercise less than painful, nothing that
director Dennis Garnhum can do makes it structurally convincing or
intellectually interesting. Perhaps wisely, the director does not ask his cast
to play out the layering of the script that would involve acting out acting.
Instead, the actors are left struggling to play Findley's feeble characters as
straight as they can.
It would be lovely to report from Stratford that Findley's last gift to the
theatre was, if not some deep drama, than at least an ingenuously crafted
reflection on theatrical illusion. But in truth, Shadows starts out
looking like a bad play and then reveals itself to be something else altogether:
A cheap trick.
If Findley's play gleefully breaks rules, the first half of this double bill
goes strictly by the book: Celia McBride's Walk
Right Up is a
tidily crafted and well observed if ultimately banal family drama about the
difficulties of caring for aging parents.
Millar Ruskin (Paul Soles) has had a stroke that has left him partly
paralyzed; his wife Lily (Elizabeth Shepherd) is vigorous but showing signs of
dementia. Their generous if slightly martyred daughter Poet (Kimwun Perehinec)
has been looking after them at the cottage to which they have retired, but needs
to head back to the city for an acting job.
She has asked resentful older sister Ella (Brenda Robins) to fill in; Ella
has instead hired estranged pot-head brother Brilliant (Damien Atkins) to do the
If this script rises above movie-of-the-week clichés it is because the
characters are richly described and because it largely avoids sentimentality and
solutions, although the implausible reconciliation of its ending somewhat mars
that second achievement. Director Michael Shamata handles it very delicately,
giving the material the best outing possible -- in less careful hands the
paint-by-number quality of this script would be only too apparent.
As the pushy Lily, Shepherd creates the kind of overly theatrical mother who
would give her children names like Brilliant and Poet, but she tends to do so
with too much visible force, robbing the threat of mother's dementia of its
power by failing to suggest the character's incipient weakness. Soles, on the
other hand, finds some moving emotional strength underneath a plausibly crippled
dad, while Perehinec also overdoes Poet's brittle competence. What's much more
interesting to watch is Robins's Ella, all sharp and hard, attempting some kind
of connection with the wonderfully shifty Brilliant created by Atkins.
Despite their unfortunate names, these are rich characters that McBride has
created here: one wishes for a more complex plot and less obvious theme to do
The double bill runs at the Studio Theatre in Stratford, Ont., until Sept.
15. For information: 1-800-567-1600.
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