Biographies of the Dead & Dying (MachineFair) 2010 Summerworks Review

By GeAviva Armour-Ostroff and Jeff Meadows - Biographies of the Dead and Dyingorge Perry

Part of the vision of MachineFair is to create work that is intellectually stimulating,  emotionally truthful and accessible.   With their Toronto production of Biographies of the Dead & Dying, audiences can expect to witness a perfect shot, a bull’s-eye.  The play is currently onstage in Toronto at Factory Theatre Mainspace as part of Summerworks.

At first the set is nearly empty.  There is only a comfortable old chair, a rug and a small table for a phone.  Soon though, the stage is spilling over with the presence of Alice and Jack.

Alice, a "one-hit chick lit" author, is brought to life magnificently by Aviva Armour-Ostroff.  She is suffering from writer’s block and has rented a house on Vancouver Island from Jack. 

Jeff Meadows is equally brilliant.  He plays both Jack and Alice’s ex-husband, John.  He is so good that I wasn’t sure that it was the same person playing two roles at first.


Half way through the opening scene I had suspended my disbeliefs and the characters onstage were just that- characters, not actors.

We soon learn that a ghost named Old Tom haunts the house.  Alice plans to overcome her writer’s block with the help of Tom and other spirits.  Her writing talent is a ghost.  She uses various media attempting to speak with her personal ghosts.  She contacts John using the phone.  She speaks with her unseen daughter via a tape recorder.  John even refers to 8-track tapes.

Playwright Andrew Templeton has done a masterful job of creating a role for an interesting, provocative woman.  Together with Armour-Ostroff, we feel the self-doubt, the pride, the yearning and the sex appeal of Alice.  It is all very genuine and emotionally truthful.  A second bull’s-eye for MachineFair.

Also, the simplicity of the set is deceiving.  The cast and crew believably create an old house on Vancouver Island with a few props and a mostly blank stage.  Props join Meadows in playing more than one role.

It is really hard to find fault with this production, and it is hard to further discuss without “giving anything anyway”.  You should really see it for yourself.  Maybe you will even see Old Tom.

Walking down the steps into the darkness of the subway, I noticed that the mp3 player was recording.  It had been for nearly two hours. I’m positive that I turned off the electronic device upon entering the theatre.  The play had been recorded, but the actors’ voices were faint, ghost-like.  The audience’s applause though, was clear, loud and true.  Is this what Sting was talking about when he named an album Ghost in the Machine?

There’s something incredibly spooky about this play.

Biographies of the Dead & Dying is playing at Factory Theatre Mainspace
60 min.
Thurs, August 5 7:30 PM
Sat, August 7 5:00 PM
Sun, August 8 10:00 PM
Wed, August 11 5:00 PM
Fri, August 13 7:30 PM
Sun, August 15 12:00 PM

– All individual Summerworks tickets are $10 at the door (cash only)
Advance tickets are $11 ($10+$1 convenience fee)
Tickets can be purchased:
-Online at
-by Phone at 416.504.7529
– in person at the Arts Box Office (located at Theatre Passe Muraille 16 Ryerson Avenue, One block North East of Bathurst & Queen)
– Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see multiple shows