Review: Jesus Chrysler (Praxis Theatre)

Aviva Armour-Ostroff and Margaret Evans

Jesus Chrysler is currently onstage at a re-imagined Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. It is an important Toronto story about our history.

My jaw dropped and I said “wow” out loud when I entered the transformed theatre. I was immediately transported into another world and welcomed by fellow comrades. It was like a child seeing Santa’s Village at the mall for the first time. Scott Penner has done a great job designing the set and costumes.

I jumped at the chance to see Jesus Chrysler. The story is about real people and real events. It occurs during The Depression in South-Western Ontario. I’d also seen Aviva Armour-Ostroff in previous performances and been impressed.

The play is mainly the story of the relationship of two women. Armour-Ostroff plays Dorothy Livesay (Dee). Armour-Ostroff uses the multi-dimensional set and extensive talent to make Dee seem distant and cold.

Margaret Evans plays Eugenia Watts, or Jim. Jim and Dee are lovers, or at least ex-lovers. Evans does a great job as the hard-drinking, chain-smoking Jim.

In real life, Livesay was the recipient of two Governor General Awards and the Order of Canada. Jim went to Spain, drove an ambulance and worked in the media during The Spanish Civil War.

Stratford veteran Jeffrey Wetsch is also great as young western farmer, Nate. He becomes sexually involved with Jim. He becomes involved in Jim’s play. He becomes bewildered.

It is a very complicated and confusing network. There is a play within a play. There is a love triangle. There is cross-dressing. It is a play about communists and feminists. Also Jesus Chrysler switches back and forth between play rehearsals and real life.

I found the plot challenging to follow at times. I suspect that is intentional. The audience is part of the play, part of the set. The characters are confused, so the audience should be too.

The characters dance with each other, even though they are physically separated. Letters, emotions and even cigarettes and booze tie them together.

I suggest you buy tickets to Jesus Chrysler early, as seats are limited.

This is a tremendous chance to see gifted actors in a very intimate setting.


Jesus Chrysler is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson) until December 11
– Performances are Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 with matinees at 2:00 on weekends
– Ticket prices range from $15.00 to $30.00 (plus HST and service fees)
– Tickets are available online, by phone at 416.504.7529 or at the Box Office up to two hours before the show

Photo of  Aviva Armour-Ostroff and Margaret Evans by Will O’Hare

2 thoughts on “Review: Jesus Chrysler (Praxis Theatre)”

  1. … nice review … (“challenging to follow at times,” as you note above, of the plot, seems right!) … like you, i have also been impressed by ms. armour-ostroff’s work too you’re dead on, i think, when you say, she’s gifted as an actor.

  2. Nice review. I too thought that the performances were superb – especially Jeffrey Wetsch, who gave a perfect balance of naivety, mixed with bravado, to the role of Nate. Unfortunately I also have to agree about being lost by the plot for most of the performance. Being from out of town, I don’t know anything about the real life story of Jim Watts and Dorothy Livesay, and left the Backspace feeling none-the-wiser – except about their complicated relationship. The audience were presented with a closer look at a love triangle that seemed to end Watts and Livesay’s relationship, but I didn’t get a sense of their personal history, i.e. the activism, politics or even the art, that must surely have influenced this relationship. It was still an interesting and affecting story, though.

    Probably a consequence of my not knowing the backstory, I didn’t quite grasp the importance of the stage design, and wondered why the audience were sat in the way that they were, and indeed why we needed the whole backdrop of Livesay’s living quarters. I think the performance might have worked better were it confined to just the main stage area (which worked well on its own), perhaps with an additional area for audience above, looking down. This may or may not have been more in keeping with the nature of Watt’s work with her theatre troupe.

    Still, the production left me with a powerful introduction to two important figures that I didn’t know about, and I look forward to further discussion and portrayals of Jim and Dee.

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