UNLESS by Carol Shields and Sara Cassidy, directed by Roy Surette, with Nicola Cavendish, Allan Morgan and Nicola Lipman. Presented by CanStage at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front East). Runs to March 19, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, mats Wednesday 1:30 pm and Sat 2 pm. $36-$80, stu $20, limited Mon pwyc and half-price same-day rush. 416-368-3110, www.canstage.com. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
People can get very upset when their favourite books get adapted for stage or screen. Even T.O.'s hard-assed critics seem unable to find a way to view an adaptation as a work in and of itself, as proved by the sustained dis they've given the CanStage production of Unless .
Complain all you want about Tim Matheson 's film projections. They often give a way too literal commentary on the scene and come across as student art installations. And somebody tell composer Marguerite Witvoet to write for film if she wants to make soundtracks. Her music stomps all over everything. When star Nicola Cavendish delivered her key "Unless" speech, I felt like jumping into the sound booth and pulling the plug on the intrusive strings.
Taken on its own, though, Unless is a perfectly sturdy play anchored by Cavendish's grounded performance.
As Rita Winters, a writer whose family is devastated when the eldest daughter leaves home and starts panhandling in front of Honest Ed's, Cavendish is unabashedly uncharismatic. But that's the point of the work, to probe what transpires when terrible things happen to ordinary people.
The trash-talkers say the play pales in comparison to its source material, but ironically, if the stage production has a narrative problem, it's the same as the book's: the reveal is too sudden, too pat.
But the emotion is strong - this is a powerful piece about maternal helplessness - and Cavendish gets excellent support from Allan Morgan and Elizabeth Saunders in multiple roles.
Besides, when you've got words by Carol Shields , you've got gold.