Review: Desperate Church Wives (SoulO Theatre Festival)

Diane Johnstone

More great programming at Toronto’s SoulO Theatre Festival

Today is the final day of the SoulO Theatre Festival so you still have time to attend a panel or a workshop and two solo shows. There were three shows last night. I saw Diane Johnstone in Desperate Church Wives.

I love solo shows, one person on the stage telling a story. It seems to me that it’s such an act of bravery. The actor is often the writer and playing more than one character with very few props and no costume changes.

In Desperate Church Wives, Johnstone plays six characters; Grandma Word, Pastor Hortense, Clarissa the ex-friend, Barbara the reformed stripper, the Reverend Hosea and Gomer, his (ex-)hooker wife. The play is based on the Bible story of the prophet Hosea and his harlot wife Gomer. (I know this because it’s in the program.)

The Reverend Hosea marries a hooker. She retires and tries to settle into church life but ends up going back to hooking. The church wives are not happy and hold a meeting to decide what to do. You can imagine what they want to do. The moral lessons are a bit heavy-handed but that’s church for you.

In a solo show the characters are often more important than the story and Johnstone has created lovely characters. Grandma Word is the folksy voice of kindness and common sense. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly. The holier than thou attitude of Clarissa, supposedly Gomer’s friend, foreshadows her confession that her husband has left her and that she doesn’t know what to do.

Barbara – the ex-stripper – is most concerned with when she’s going to find a husband, or when a husband is going to find her. Every time she mentions that she was a stripper she does a pole dance move that’s wonderful in all of its out-of-place glory. You can imagine the other church wife cringing. She wonders if it would be ok for her to go back to stripping given that the reverends wife has gone back to hooking; she misses the money. She does a short strip routine – the dance part – and the boredom on her face is priceless.

The Pastor Hortense is supposed to be running the meeting. Her’s is a voice of reason.

The Reverend Hosea is a sad and tired man who loves his wife and wants her to come back. Gomer just wants to find a home. She tried to find it in the church but after being repeatedly rebuffed she went back to her old friends.

As I write this I realize that I saw them all as separate characters. I forgot that Johnstone played them all. That’s the test of a one person show with a large cast of characters.

I do have one quibble. Hortense’s accent. All of the other accents were great but I couldn’t figure what Hortense’s was. Late in the show she spoke without an accent so I wondered if the accent was ‘fake’. Even if it was it didn’t work for me, it was a distraction in a show that otherwise was very enjoyable.

Today is the final day of the inaugural SoulO Theatre Festival, celebrating the solo performer. Tracey Erin Smith has done a fantastic job of pulling the festival together and presenting strong performers. I’m already looking forward to next year.

There’s still time for you to see Sarah Murphy Dyson in The Naked Ballerina at 7 pm and Precious Chong in Precious, like the Adjective at 9pm. Check the website for panels and workshops.


  • The SoulO Theatre Festival is playing at The Red SandCastle Theatre (922 Queen St W) until this evening, May 26
  • Check the website for show times as well as times for workshops and panels
  • Mainstage tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, there is a festival pass available for $90. Panels and Workshops are $10 at the door.
  • Tickets are available online by phone at 416-465-5609 or at the box office.