Elvis’s Toenail, playing at the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto, is a “triumphant, emotional period piece” not to be missed
In their purest form, rules are meant to protect us, to keep us from harm. But throughout our collective history, there’s always been a fierce debate: what’s more important, the letter of the law or its spirit?
Ireland during the 1960’s, like many countries, it was still dominated by the rule of the Catholic Church. Many things considered to be freedoms in modern society – like a woman’s right to choose or even to keep her baby out of wedlock – were staunchly prohibited and fiercely punished.
When a runaway pregnant teenager shows up at a Dublin seamstress shop desperate for a job, her coworkers must decide whether to surrender her to the Church or break the rules in order for her protection.
As a man watching this play, I will never be able to even fathom the anguish an unwed mother of that era would have had to experience, being forced to give up my child for adoption since that was the only socially acceptable course of action at that time.
But that’s where the real strength of this piece lies.
Playwright Fionnuala Kenny created truly compelling yet very authentic characters who perfectly complemented each other on stage. Their dialogue felt completely natural and not overly scripted. As a result, the premise and slant of this piece were allowed to unfold organically throughout the first act, not abruptly forced upon playgoers, which in my experience, is something all too common with many productions that also deal with heavy subject matter.
Instead of preaching what the audience ought to believe, Elvis’s Toenail presents its viewpoint through a thoughtful and relatable tale of a young girl who is struggling to do what she believes is right — despite her faith, her family and her community believing otherwise.
It was because of Kenny’s masterful crafting of her characters, combined with her subtle, believable storytelling that I was able to really empathize with this play’s tragic heroine. I’ve watched many plays that have attempted to tug at my heart strings in order to illicit a desired emotion, but this play truly made me feel a full gamut of emotion – whether it was pity for her situation, outrage for how unfair the societal norms at the time were, or pride in the fact that the people in this story were able to look past the letter of the law and see the actual person it was claiming to protect.
Of course, this would not have been possible without the wonderful acting of its ensemble.
First and foremost, I’d like to single out Kasia Lee for her heartwarming performance as Rita – this show’s protagonist. Lee was charming, endearing and just plain likeable. Without this on-stage charisma, I don’t think I would have been able to relate to her character’s plight quite as much.
Another standout performance of the night would have to be that of Maureen Lukie, playing the role of Mrs. Kelly, the shop owner who must finally decide at the play’s conclusion whether or not to turn the expectant mother over to the Church. Her character experienced the most growth throughout the play, with Lukie skillfully adapting her approach to accommodate this change.
And although I’ve failed to mention all the actors in this play, they all gave a wonderfully cohesive performance with no weak links whatsoever. For this, much kudos should be awarded to director, Cliona Kenny, for her strong casting choices and exemplary execution of this story.
From start to finish, this production had a polished air of sophistication that I could not help but appreciate.
Elvis’s Toenail is a triumphant, emotional period piece that would mark a wonderful addition to any playgoer’s season.
- Elvis’s Toenail plays until March 7th at The Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley Street), with 8 PM shows Thursday through Saturday, as well as one remaining Sunday matinee show at 2 PM on March 1st
- Tickets will cost you $20, $18 for seniors and students, and are available at the box office prior to the show
- The runtime for this two-act show is approximately 2 hours, with a 15 minute intermission between acts
- Read a Q&A interview with playwright Fionnuala Kenny on the Toronto Irish Players’ blog here