Theatre review: A Woman Is a Secret — Six looks at love and lust


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Directed by META winner Andrew Shaver, the play brings together 11 seasoned actors accompanied by Juno-nominated singer/songwriter Matthew Barber.

Image credit: John Gundy

TORONTO, Ontario — Oscar, Tony, and Pulitzer winner John Patrick Shanley was in attendance at The Theatre Centre this weekend for the world premiere of his new work A Woman Is a Secret, an evening of six short plays inventively exploring love and sex from various angles. For this show, directed by META winner Andrew Shaver, Rip Jaw Productions collaborates with Storefront Theatre and SideMart Theatrical Grocery, and brings together 11 seasoned actors, accompanied by Juno-nominated singer/songwriter Matthew Barber who warms you with a voice and a soundtrack as comfy as a loveseat. 

Shanley won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay with the romantic classic Moonstruck (1987), and his after his dramatic play Doubt (2004) won both a Pulitzer and the Tony Award for Best Play, his screen adaptation (2008) starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman went on to be nominated for five Oscars including Best Adapted Screenplay.

Characters, actors and scenes

It’s hard to know how to apportion the credit, but between the playwright, the director and the actors, each of the pieces in A Woman Is a Secret is an achievement, and collectively they are a triumph. The plays contain secrets I won’t reveal here. 

Amongst many fine performances, a few that stand out are Rip Jaw founder Anna Hardwick as the outrageous titular waitress in the opening short play “The French Waitress”, Karen Knox as the direct and self-assured Kasia in “Poland”, and the magnificent and multiple-award-winning Martha Burns as “The Banshee”.

Providing the icing on the cake and the filling between the layers, Barber sings and strums nostalgic love songs selected by Shanley and, with support from the cast, music sets the mood scene after scene. 

Behind the scenes

Together, director Shaver (founding Artistic Director of SideMart Theatrical Grocery), set and costume designer Hanna Puley, sound designer Brian Kenny, and lighting designer Kim Purtell manage to set the stage so unobtrusively that a single space imperceptibly transforms from one world into another, allowing the characters in each of Shanley’s six pieces to come to life in a place made just for them. 

Take-home

Insightful, soulful, funny and heartening, all in one sitting. Shanley dares us to love more courageously, more perceptively, and more extravagantly. There are too many good things to say about this satisfying, multifaceted collection of plays. You just have to see it for yourself.

Playing until April 5 at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. West) 

Two hours, 15 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission

Note: This production of A Woman is a Secret is honoured to partner with Sistering, an organization that supports homeless and marginalized women in Toronto. Theatre-goers are encouraged to contribute to the production’s Sistering Intimates Drive by bringing new women’s underwear, bras or feminine hygiene products to the show and quote “Sistering” at the Box Office to receive $5 off ticket purchase.

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Evan Andrew Mackay is a Toronto playwright and humorist who writes about culture and social justice.

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