That Face – Nightwood Theatre – Berkeley Street Theatre

By Sam Mooney

Sonja Smits and Kristopher Turner - That Face

Nightwood Theatre’s mission is to produce “essential theatre by women” , and to celebrate Nightwood Theatre’s 30th Anniversary Season they’re having a 4×4 Festival, – 4 plays directed by women.  Tonight my friend Pat and I went to see That Face, playing at The Berkeley Street Theatre, the first play in the series. 

Based on the publicity I was expecting a play about the fun in dysfunctional.  The blurb that I read said that: – That Face is a powerful and darkly comic exploration of children who become parents to their parents.” 

It was certainly powerful, but it wasn’t the least bit comic. 

I may have chuckled a couple of times but that was all.  As Pat said, “This wasn’t an easy play.”  We both thought that we’d be careful about whom we recommended it to. It reminded me of the way I felt after seeing Soulpepper’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. That is to say a bit emotionally beaten up. Apropos of nothing really, the female lead in each play is called Martha.

In the context of a show that’s ‘not an easy play’, it’s difficult to say: “oh, I really enjoyed it”.  Enjoy is certainly the wrong word to describe it.  I’m glad that I saw it, but it wasn’t fun.

Hard, angst filled plays like this, with such a dark vision, reminded Pat and I of the kinds of plays that teenagers write (i.e. dark and fairly bleak).  With this in mind, it was interesting when I was rereading the information about the play in preparation for writing this article that Polly Stenham, was in fact only 19 when she wrote this. It was also impresive. It might have been an angst-ridden piece of theatre, but it was a damn good one.

It wasn’t just the script that was intense,  so were the performances. I loved Athena Karkanis as Izzy.  Moreover, she really seemed to be enjoying herself as well.  Sonja Smits as Martha was the mother from hell. 

One challenge we had with the piece was that we both had trouble understanding  the dialog when the characters were yelling at each other.  I admit that it’s possible that my hearing isn’t now what it once was, but we were in the third row.  Our theory is that when actors are doing accents it changes the way that they project their voices.  The thing is, I don’t understand why they had to have British accents at all.  Except possibly because of the weird boarding school stuff, – maybe only British boarding schools are that bizarre?

So all in all… I’m glad I saw That Face.

In addition to the four plays, there are also some interesting events that are part of the festival.  Check the Joy Rides section of the Nightwood website.


That Face is playing at Berkeley Street Theatre, downstairs, (26 Berkeley Street) until November 21.
-Performances Monday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Wednesday 1:30 pm
Saturdays at 2:00 p.m.
-Ticket prices range from $20 to $45 with PWYC on Mondays.
-Tickets are available online, or by phone at 416.955.0101

Photo of Sonja Smits and Kristopher Turner by Guntar Kravis