By Wayne Leung
In the decade since Factory Theatre first produced Adam Pettle’s play about compulsive behavior, Zadie’s Shoes, it has become one of the most prolific contemporary Canadian plays.
Following the original Factory Theatre run the Mirvishs picked up Zadie’s Shoes for a commercial run at the Winter Garden Theatre and, in the years since, theatre companies across Canada and around the world have produced Pettle’s compelling script.
I first heard of Zadie’s Shoes back when I was living in Ottawa and the Great Canadian Theatre Company mounted an acclaimed production of the play which I regrettably didn’t have the chance to see at the time. When I heard that Factory Theatre was producing a new production of Zadie’s Shoes, with an all-new cast and a revised script, I jumped at the chance to finally see this oft-produced play.
Zadie’s Shoes tells the story of Benjamin, a compulsive gambler, who has gambled away the money meant to pay for his ailing girlfriend’s “alternative” cancer treatment. While visiting a synagogue for the first time since his bar mitzvah, Benjamin meets Eli, an old Jewish man who becomes a moral compass of sorts for the embattled protagonist.
Throughout the course of the show we watch as Benjamin struggles with his gambling and we witness the consequences on his life and the lives of those around him as his addiction spirals out of control.
The script is superb; the plot develops in a really interesting way and you’re never really sure how it is going to end. I also appreciate how it deals with the serious issues around addiction in an accessible, non-heavy-handed way and never feels like it’s moralizing. It’s also peppered with just enough humour to keep the tone of the play from veering too deeply into its serious subject matter.
Factory Theatre’s tenth anniversary production is co-directed by the playwright himself, Adam Pettle, and his brother Jordan Pettle, who originated the role of Benjamin in the first production. They wear the tightly honed script like an old glove and direct the show with a strong vision and sense of purpose.
The show is well paced and flows with a great rhythm. It features a very strong ensemble of actors who are all evenly matched and well balanced in their strength.
Standout performers include Joe Cobden who plays the conflicted lead character, Benjamin, with a vulnerability that keeps him likable despite his demons and Harry Nelken as Eli, the old Jewish man Benjamin meets in a synagogue; his portrayal is comical yet restrained enough to keep him believable and he’s careful not to stray into the realm of caricature.
I also enjoyed the subtle artistic touches in the production. My friend Marty pointed out that the song used during a montage of Benjamin gambling was Leonard Cohen’s A Thousand Kisses Deep; the lyrics talk about a gambler reaching the end of his winning streak and having to come to terms with defeat. We both thought that was a really nice, poetic touch.
Having finally had the chance to see Zadie’s Shoes I can understand why it’s so often produced; it’s well deserving of the accolades. This new production at Factory Theatre features all-around strong performances from its ensemble cast and has an immediacy that comes from the fact that it’s co-directed by the playwright himself.
Don’t miss this superb production of a play that is destined to be a classic of the Canadian theatre canon.
- Zadie’s Shoes presented by Factory Theatre
- Written by Adam Pettle
- Co-directed by Jordan Pettle and Adam Pettle
- Starring Joe Cobden, Patricia Fagan, William MacDonald, Harry Nelken, Shannon Perreault, Geoffrey Pounsett and Lisa Ryder
- April 30 – June 5, Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street
- Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., with the May 1 Preview at 7 p.m.
- Tickets are $15 – $45. Sundays are Pay-What-You-Can (or $30 in advance).
- The box office is open for in-person/phone sales (416 504 9971), Tuesday to Saturday, 1 – 8 p.m., and Sunday at 12 noon – 4 p.m.; online sales are available 24 hours a day at www.factorytheatre.ca
– Harry Nelken and Joe Cobden in Adam Pettle’s Zadie’s Shoes, April 30 – June 5, Factory Theatre. © 2011 Jeremy Mimnagh.