Assembly Theatre presents a story of love in the face of cancer treatment, on stage in Toronto
As I was putting my coat on in the ‘foyer’ of the Assembly Theatre after seeing the Unit 102 Actors Co. production of Therac 25, I overheard a woman say to her friend “That was lovely”. Her friend replied “it was”. Uninvited, I joined the conversation and said “It really was.”. The first woman said “The way they used the projection was so effective.”.
And that’s my review in a nutshell. It is a lovely play. Yes it’s about two young people with cancer and yes, a lot of it takes place in St. Margaret’s Hospital and yes, you might shed a tear or two at the end. It’s a play about two young people who have something really shitty in common, meet, become friends, and fall in love.
It sounds like the plot of a weepy Hallmark movie of the week but it’s nothing like that. It avoids being maudlin by focusing on the characters’ developing relationship rather than on their cancer.
Adam Pettle wrote Therac 25 after undergoing radiation treatment after he had surgery to remove a tumour wrapped around his vocal chord and 11 lymph nodes when he was only 22.
The play is funny. It’s their sense of humour that attracts Alan (Luis Fernandes) and Moira (Cass Van Wyck) to each other. At one point Alan talks about writing a book, 101 Ways to Pick Up a Cancer Patient, “I don’t want to brag but I’ve got the lowest blood count on the ward.”.
The acting is excellent — very natural, a style I particularly like. There’s terrific chemistry between Fernandes and Van Wyck, I felt as if I was watching a relationship develop in real life.
They’re both strong and brave on the surface but you can feel the fear and anger underneath. Alan’s explanation of his ‘don’t touch me’ rule is heartbreaking in the way that it exposes his essential loneliness. Moira’s rant against God while they’re sitting in a church shows the extent of her underlying anger. They’re both tentative as they move forward in their relationship.
The stage at the Assembly Theatre is small and the play takes place in a hospital room, a treatment room, a waiting room, a coffee shop, a church, and two parks. Director Jessie Fraser’s decision to project the settings on to the rear of the set is brilliant. Christopher Lewis designed the projections with white space directly behind the actors so the background isn’t projected on them. Aaron Collier added ambient sound. The combination opens up the small stage and feels amazingly realistic.
Without the projections James McCoy’s set is sterile looking, white walls, an examination table, and two plastic folding chairs, and serves as the hospital locations. The transformation between it and the other locations is amazing.
Therac 25 is a short play, I didn’t check but I think it runs for less than an hour, but it’s exactly the right length to tell the story. It didn’t feel long or short, it held my attention for the entire time.
I really enjoyed it. I cried at the end, I wasn’t alone, but I felt good leaving the theatre. Everything about it worked. It’s definitely worth seeing.
- Therac 25 is playing until April 21, 2018 at the Assembly Theatre (1479 Queen St. W.)
- Show times are Tuesday through Sunday at 8:00 pm
- Tickets are $25, arts workers – $20, there are a limited number of PWYC tickets for Tuesday performances
- Tickets are available online and in person at the door
Photo of Cass Van Wyck & Luis Fernandes by Sam El Esai