the gwendolyn poems by Claudia Dey, directed by Eda Holmes, with Brooke Johnson, Jerry Franken, David Fox, Barbara Gordon, Tamsin Kelsey and Tony Nappo. Presented by Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). Runs to June 9, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $20-$25, Sunday pwyc-$20. 416-504-9971. Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN
claudia Dey is like an overcaffeinated undergrad who can't find a theme for her term paper. Her subject in The Gwendolyn Poems is the late poet Gwendolyn MacEwen. It's a subject, as Linda Griffiths realized a couple of seasons ago with her superior play Alien Creature, that offers lots of thematic possibilities: madness, alcoholism, the image of the starving artist, the female writer, magic and prophecy. That's just for starters.
Griffiths wisely chose a few themes to centre on, and structured her play like an incantation -- a brief summoning of MacEwen's spirit.
The overwhelmed Dey has one hand nervously thumbing through Rosemary Sullivan's biography, the other flipping through bad CBC movies-of-the-week for tips on how to write earnest dialogue.
Without the artistry of selection, Dey's play feels leaden. Scenes tell, don't show. Moments of promise nudge up against docudrama clichés.
Dey's best work involves MacEwen (Brooke Johnson) and the various women in her life, like her mad mother (a focused Barbara Gordon) and Tamsin Kelsey's sensible Mo, a blend of literary female friends, both flitting in and out of the sheer wings of David Boechler's set.
But Dey's too fond of making MacEwen sympathetic. First husband Milton Acorn (David Fox) is little more than a caricature; a TV interviewer possibly based on Adrienne Clarkson is a stuffed shirt.
With no focus, little momentum and only a few scenes directed with any sense of dramatic excitement -- one involving the Governor General's Awards stands out -- it's hard to feel anything for MacEwen.
Too bad, because Johnson, no physical match for the poet, slogs away dutifully at the email@example.com