Review: February (Alumnae Theatre)

Alumnae Theatre takes Moore’s novel from page to stage to open its 2012-2013 play season in Toronto.

Film adaptations of novels are often disappointing and similar challenges exist when adapting a novel for the stage. I was very intrigued to see how Lisa Moore’s script of February, based on her novel of the same name, would handle these challenges. February is a powerful novel, based on the true life event of the sinking of the Ocean Ranger, a tragedy that killed eighty-four people when it sank off the coast of Newfoundland in 1982. The stage adaptation of February is the season opener at Alumnae Theatre.

February the novel bounces back and forth in time, from 1982, when the Ocean Ranger oil rig was destroyed and left Helen a widowed mother of four, and the present day, where Helen is finally trying to date, rather symbolically renovating her house, and dealing with her grown son who has accidentally impregnated a woman he had a fling with months before.

This structure works in the novel because you can mentally adjust in a split second to being in another time and place as you read the next sentence. To indicate these temporal changes on stage, the cast moved around set pieces and changed costume, which I found very distracting. The scenes are very short, so there was no time to get engrossed in any one interaction before the stage was once again full of people adjusting furniture and clothing.

My companion thought it could have been less jarring if transitions had been done minimally, with simple lighting cues. I agree that an audience is smart enough to catch on, and that it would have allowed for dramatic moments to be held instead of being compromised by the need to start moving stuff around. However, I also think that very short scenes jumping around in time and location are not suited for the stage, where the actors need time to increasingly build dramatic tension between each other.

The other thing I was distracted by was the variation in accent work. Some of the actors had credible Newfoundland accents, others had pretty spotty accents, and some weren’t trying to do an accent at all, despite the fact that all the characters were all meant to be born-and-bred Islanders. (The actor who plays the son, Justin Skye Conley actually does a rather decent job of having an accent as a child and none as a grown man who has been living off the island most of his adult life – and is also the sort of person who would try to eradicate such a thing from his speech.) I wasn’t at all surprised when I looked at the program after the show to discover that the people who had the best accents were actually from Newfoundland originally.

Everybody involved has obviously put in a lot of effort, and it’s not by any means a bad show, but to feel the vibrant beauty of the story of February I have to recommend reading the book instead.


February plays at Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley Street)
– Runs from September 21 to October 6
-Showtimes are Wednesday to Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sunday Matinée at 2:00 pm
-Tickets are Wednesday 2-for-1, Thursday, Friday & Saturday $20 and Sunday Matinée PWYC
-Purchase tickets for Thu/Fri/Sat online at, or email or phone 416-364-4170 (Box 1) for reservations. Also available at the box office from one hour before performance (Cash only)
Photo of Lavetta Griffin and John Fray by Dahlia Katz

3 thoughts on “Review: February (Alumnae Theatre)”

  1. Why is the Alumni THeatre never covered in the ‘mainstream press?’ That would be THe Globe and Mail and The TOronto Star.

  2. That’s a great question, Gail.

    The short answer is that there simply aren’t very many theatre critics left in the world: a small but growing number of papers don’t have critics at all, and instead send a freelancer or a reporter to cover the big openings.

    Toronto is kind of spoiled in this regard–the Star, Post, Globe, Grid and NOW all have full-time critics–but even here, resources are limited. (J. Kelly Nestruck, bless his adorable wee heart, can only be in so many places at once!)

  3. I disagree with the reviewer regarding the scene changes. They worked well. The whole point of rapid scene changes, in my view, is to illustrate the episodes of the lives of the characters. The death of Cal in the sinking of the Ocean Ranger jarred everyone he knew. A single thread production would not be as effective.

    Regarding the inconsistency of the accents, better that the actors work with an accent they are comfortable with than try a false accent. The actress portraying Louise was the only inconsistent one. Helen and Cal were dead-on throughout. John and Barry had worked away from the Rock for many years so an obvious Newfoundland accent would have been false.

    Now let’s all lobby for a theatre critic in at least one of the mainstream media who reviews only non mainstream theatre. That would be heaven!

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