Review: Thirteen Hands (Alumnae Theatre)

Sandi Globerman as Clara in Thirteen HandsAlumnae Theatre presents a series of vignettes exploring generations and connections in Toronto

Do you play Bridge? Maybe your mother did. My grandmother did and I kept thinking about her as I watched Thirteen Hands at Alumnae Theatre on Wednesday night. Carol Shields wrote the play in 1993 and it holds up well. It’s about women connecting, developing friendships, and supporting each other. These things are timeless.

I have to admit that I don’t play Bridge – I can barely play Old Maid, I’m definitely card challenged – and I don’t know anyone who does. Is it still a thing? A weekly Bridge night? It doesn’t matter, the play evoked such wonderful memories for me.

Thirteen Hands is a series of vignettes that follow the lives of three generations of women, or maybe four, who play Bridge together every week. Players die or move away and are replaced by relatives or daughters and the game continues.

There are nine women in the cast. Eight of them play multiple roles and play them well. Sandi Globerman plays Clara, the narrator who also features in some of the vignettes. She was absolutely lovely as she told us about the original quartet, sometimes standing and telling the story and sometimes acting it.

Her story of the original group is the thread that binds the piece together. It moves off to other scenes and other players but it keeps coming back to Clara.

Early in the play she tells a story about one of the original players dying from uterine cancer. That was what opened the box of memories for me. It took me back to my childhood in the fifties and sixties when the C word had six letters and was referred to by two of them – “CA” or, if men were talking about it, “the big CA”. When woman had a mysterious “down there”. It took me quite a while to figure out that was a body part and then more time to figure out which one.

One of my favourite scenes was of four women who didn’t really know each other. Their husbands all worked for the same company. One of them was the boss’s wife; it was his idea that she arrange the get-together. Their conversation is stilted and awkward but their thoughts, which the audience can hear, tell us the back story and are very funny.

Another one I liked was of four generations of a family playing Bridge and talking. They were having the kind of conversation that used to happen in my mother’s family. Someone would say “Remember so-and-so? They died last week.” Someone else would say “I went to school with their daughter” and someone else “I dated their cousin’s brother-in-law’s son in Grade 10.”  and then “It was his sister’s grandson who got arrested.” and so it would go.

There’s no real plot, the play is about the characters, their relationships, and their conversations. I’ve seen it billed as a musical, a musical play, and a play cum musical. I’d call it a play with some songs. It really wouldn’t harm the play if the songs weren’t there. I’m not convinced that works by Carol Shields should be musicals. (Ask me about Larry’s Party someday.)

Kudos to director Claren Grosz.  With people playing multiple parts and a large cast things can sometimes get confusing. It didn’t happen. She kept the action running smoothly with entrances and exits feeling natural.

I liked Marysia Bucholc’s set. There was a card table with chairs set on a dias in one corner and there were two ‘walls’ at right angles behind it. The walls were actually boxes – like shadow boxes without backs – hanging at various heights. Each box had a theme. One had gardening gloves and tools hanging inside. One had telephones of various ages. It was very clever.

I also liked Bec Brownstone and Sim Suzer’s costumes. Particularly those little hats that I think  of as fifties hats. And the matching shoes and purses; my mother still frets about that.

It’s the kind of play that men should go see. Maybe not young men but men over 50. It would go a long way to helping them understand the women in their lives, especially their mothers. Unfortunately they don’t usually go. I doubt that 15% of the audience was men on Wednesday.

I enjoyed Thirteen Hands and recommend it to anyone. If you’re a grandparent who played Bridge it would be lovely to take a teen grandchild to see it. You have a lot to talk about and lots of stories to tell them afterwards.


  • Thirteen Hands is playing until November 4, 2017 at Alumnae Theatre ( 70 Berkeley St)
  • Showtimes are Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sunday at 2:00 pm
  • Tickets are $25.00, 2 for 1 Wed. – $12.50 ticket, PWYC with Post-show audience Talkback. No reservations. Cash only at BO
  • Tickets are available online, or in person – cash only – at the box office

Picture of Sandi Globerman by Bruce Peters