Preview: A Woman is a Secret

A WOMAN IS A SECRET by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Andrew Shaver, with Martha Burns, Tony Nappo, Anand Rajaram.

A WOMAN IS A SECRET by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Andrew Shaver, with Martha Burns, Tony Nappo, Anand Rajaram and others. Presented by Rip Jaw Productions/Storefront Theatre/SideMart Theatrical Grocery at the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West). Previews Thursday (March 19), opens Friday (March 20) and runs to April 5, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $25-$30, preview $20, March 29 limited pwyc, March 21 VIP gala and reception (with Shanley in attendance) $75. 416-538-0988,

For director Andrew Shaver, John Patrick Shanley’s series of short plays, A Woman Is A Secret, provides the whole theatrical package: love’s heartache, poetic humour and live music.

A trio of companies – Rip Jaw Productions, the Storefront Theatre and Shaver’s SideMart Theatrical Grocery – present the world premiere of six of the plays from Woman, featuring a talented group of actors and live music by Matthew Barber, who previously collaborated with Shaver on SideMart’s Haunted Hillbilly.

“Shanley (Moonstruck, Doubt, Savage In Limbo) prescribed six or seven cover songs for the scenes, and we asked him if Matt could write original songs for our production,” says Shaver. “He was receptive to the idea but decided that no song would be better than what he originally wanted.

“So Matt’s now doing cover songs of 50s and 60s tunes by Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. He’s such a wonderful love-song crooner that he does justice to them all.”

This is the first production of this group of plays with music, notes the director. Some have had readings but have never been reviewed.

The short scenes, mostly two-handers involving a man and a woman at the point of making a critical decision about their lives, include the pairing of a fairy and a sick man, a tycoon and a determined Polish immigrant, and an aimless young man and a fortune teller.

“Shanley has spoken to me about the quest for knowledge and truth and the shifting power dynamics in the male/female relationship. In these plays, the answers that the men seek come through the women in their lives, and to varying degrees the women take pleasure in having that power.

“I like the fact that there’s something unusual, almost otherworldly and hard to pin down, in each of the plays. Shanley’s writing gives you clues rather than answers. That sparks my imagination as a reader, and as an audience member it invites me to lean forward and try to figure out what I’m seeing rather than sit back and hear the story.”

Shaver also talks about the “unabashed, unexpected” humour in the script, “the way it flips from base to poetic in an instant. That surprise and shifting of parameters is what make the writing so effective. Shanley’s got a wicked wit and keen insight into the way humans connect.”

The director came to the project through a suggestion of Barber’s, and he’s happy to direct another show here after years of working with SideMart in its original home, Montreal, where the company still has links.

“I’ve been in and out of Toronto for the past decade, but more recently I’m making a concerted effort to base myself here.”

Part of that work has been establishing, with artistic producer Paul Flicker (associate director of Woman), a SideMart branch on Queen East that is both a presentation and development space.

“On a personal level, A Woman Is A Secret is a new adventure for me, collaborating with two other Toronto companies in this premiere. It’s a great way for me and for SideMart to say hello to the city.”

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