Have you heard of Dr. Vera Peters? No? Neither had I until I chose this particular Toronto Fringe Festival entry. Radical (presented by Gruff Pyg) is a dramatized account of a remarkable Canadian oncologist, Dr. Peters, and her fight to offer women a choice when it came to how their bodies were treated for breast cancer. I should have heard of her, and you should have too. That’s why you ought to see this play.
Written by practicing oncologist and playright, Charles Hayter, this drama is set in Princess Margaret Hospital in 1972. Dr. Peters, challenged by an assertive patient who refused to be disfigured by a radical mastectomy, sets out on a mission to prove that less extreme surgery is a viable option.
The play is an examination of the sexism and repressive arrogance lurking within the medical profession. In his script, Hayter has illustrated that her fight was not just for women’s right to be offered a choice in how their bodies will be treated, it was about allowing respect and dignity into the doctor/patient relationship and highlighting the need for ongoing progress.
The dialogue has an old school charm. It reminded me of a 1950s Katharine Hepburn film. And lead actress Jane Smythe has some of that headstrong Hepburn spirit. Much of Edgar Chua’s direction has a similar throwback quality. The performances are somewhat stylized. There are a few stiff moments, but it hardly matters. There is passion and intensity in this solid drama.
It did occur to me that the Tarragon Mainspace is a little large for this particular production. Some of the staging seems a little big for the content and context. But that’s unavoidable when you need to fill ample stage area with only a few actors and no major set pieces.
I found myself quite moved by the final scenes. The emotion blindsided me because, while I found myself enjoying it, I didn’t realize how invested I had become. Isn’t that a hallmark of really great storytelling?
While I am loath to use such a phrase, this is a play you should see. Why? Because it’s a good story, well told. Because it’s a piece of Canadian history you may not know, but should. Because it’s good theatre.
July 04 at 10:30 PM
July 05 at 09:15 PM
July 06 at 07:00 PM
July 09 at 02:15 PM
July 11 at 03:30 PM
July 12 at 08:00 PM
July 13 at 01:45 PM
Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.
LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
Photo of Sheila Russell and Jane Smythe by Sydney Helland