TAINTED by Kat Lanteigne (Gromkat/Moyo Theatre). At Aki Studio Theatre (585 Dundas East). Runs to October 12. $27-$42. 1-800-204-0855. See listings. Rating: NNN
It's important not to forget the tainted blood scandal, one of Canada's darkest public health moments, when some 30,000 Canadians were infected with HIV and hepatitis C during the 1980s and 90s.
Tainted, Kat Lanteigne's heartfelt play, moves the story into the Steeles household, where sons Jeff (Gord Rand), Scotty (Alex Furber) and Leo (Owen Mason) are hemophiliacs dependent on blood transfusions. Over the course of the action, their protective and loving parents, Greg (Richard Greenblatt) and Molly (Maria Vacratsis), welcome others (Claire Calnan and P.J. Prudat) into an extended family.
The characters, though, are largely defined by the hemophilia in the family and the illnesses caused by the contaminated blood. Too often, all the characters are two-dimensional portraits.
It's not the fault of the actors, who under director Vikki Anderson bring as much life to their roles as they can. Vacratsis is striking as the family's emotional anchor, who insists on truth and dignity even when news is heartbreaking, while Greenblatt's Greg holds fast to the unity of the family as a talisman against any attack.
Rand energizes the final dinner scene, the play's most dramatically effective episode, when Jeff, a lawyer who insists on accountability in a situation in which no group or individual will accept responsibility, lashes out against everyone. Furber gives warmth to his interactions with Mason and a welcome touch of comedy to those with Prudat.
Calnan and Prudat, both good performers, have little to work with in terms of the writing, which is sometimes forced while revealing plot and historical information.
Still, Lanteigne provides memorable moments, such as the ironic echo of the first scene in the last, and the simple but effective episode in which Vacratsis and Calnan bond in Molly's garden.
The playwright's dedication to keeping the tainted blood story alive on the 20th anniversary of the Krever Inquiry is admirable, and you only have to see people wiping their eyes at the play's end to know that the script touches many in the audience.