Review: The Trouble with Mr. Adams (Tarragon Theatre)

Mr. Adams

The Trouble With The Trouble With Mr. Adams

You’ve probably already seen The Trouble with Mr. Adams, most likely as a movie-of-the-week: middle-aged teacher develops a crush on a student, disaster ensues.

There’s a tendency to treat this subject with kid gloves and ambiguities, emphasizing grey areas and he-said-he-said. Here, playwright Gord Rand and director Lisa Peterson go for the jugular, choosing to fully engage with the sleaze and messiness of this situation. It’s a bold decision, and a commendable one: lots of people squirmed in their seats at opening night.

But they weren’t just squirming about the frankness.

When Rand’s script is focused on that central subject, there’s a lot to like — but in the first act in particular, this completely jumps the rails. Step right up, folks, we’ve got something for everyone: a profoundly bitter rant about the cruelties visited upon the middle-aged; some wordplay just this side of Carry On; a sex scene which had audience members scratching their heads; a brief elocution lesson; oodles of lines which seemed to exist mostly to show how clever the writing is; and several missed opportunities for a besieged wife to chuck a glass of wine over her asshole husband’s face.

The second and third acts are stronger for being more tightly-focused. As the union attorney preparing his defence, Allegra Fulton fires on all cylinders, the only person capable of staring down Adams and making him confront his own delusions. Steely-eyed and rock-ribbed, I could watch this character (and this performer) for days.

As the student, Sydney Owchar absolutely floored me, turning in a performance which operates on multiple levels. Here’s the 15-year-old with a crush on her gym teacher; here’s the adult who knows better; here’s the 17-year-old who straddles both worlds. This is complex and challenging stuff, and Owchar nails it.

As the wife trapped in that first act, Philippa Domville is totally game for the bumps in the road, successfully navigating the contortions and convolutions of a woman in the midst of a marital and nervous breakdown. Given the material she’s working with, it’s remarkable that this performance feels as complete as it is. Pay special attention to her eyes, they’re one of the best acting tools in Domville’s kit.

And as the man at the centre of it, Chris Earle grew on me, especially in the third act when things started to click into place. Adams transforms so much over the course of the play, and with a less talented performer than Earle, this would read as inconsistency. His ability to find a core in this man is what makes this character, and this production, hang together.

But it hangs loosely, wobbling and wiggling. There’s something bold, and something fascinating, to this script, which defies expectations and challenges the audience to confront realities of these situations than many of us are even comfortable imagining. That’s important, and not something to be dismissed lightly.

That first act, though, man oh man. Some of it is deeply significant, but large parts of it just felt indulgent. This is a crowded field (“Next week on Lifetime, he was a beloved music teacher, and she was his star bassoonist, until things got complicated…”), and I was hoping for something more interesting than middle-aged angst to get this one off the ground.


  • The Trouble with Mr. Adams plays through November 29th at the Tarragon Theatre. (30 Bridgman Ave.)
  • Performances run nightly Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 PM, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30 PM.
  • Regular tickets are $55-60. Seniors pay $49, students $29. Rush tickets are $15, when available.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416.531.1827), or in-person from the venue box office.
  • This show features nudity, realistic violence, frank depictions of sexual encounters, and frank discussion of sexual themes.

Photograph of Sydney Owchar and Chris Earle by Cylla von Tiedemann.