Photo by Brad Vos

About her.

After its successful run at the Fringe Festival, her. returned to the Toronto stage at the Red Sandcastle Theatre. The 2023 run has now wrapped up, and the critics have spoken. Here are excerpts of the reviews it received:

OUR THEATRE VOICE: An edge-of-the-seat, intense production thanks to Deborah Shaw’s understated performance. There’s a great deal of sub-contextual meaning underneath her calm demeanor. ‘her.’ becomes an edge-of-the-seat production as the story unfolds. Under David Agro’s assured direction, Shaw delivers a compelling performance of a woman who has a past. She’s commanding when she first enters. There’s dignity and class about this lady. Her diction and elocution are pristine. She’s witty. This playfulness soon changes, and first impressions of Ilsa become altered as she shares what happened in her past with Gunter and the audience. And it’s fascinating when all becomes clear. It’s quite the task for an actor to remain fully committed and in the moment in a solo performance. Shaw nicely does. By the end of the play, questions of certainty and truth of what we think we know are called into question. ‘her.’ is one of those plays that should be discussed after the curtain call. 

ISTVAN REVIEWS: Shaw is a commanding presence, offering us a glimpse of trauma in restrained, carefully modulated changes in demeanor. Even as she finally reveals the full extent of her story to Gunter and her persona falters, she never loses her composure, never lets herself collapse into hysteria, yet she makes the cost of this dutifully maintained poise clear to us. As Ilsa tells Gunter about her youth and early adulthood in a provincial German town, she paints a very vivid portrait of two world wars that loom large in her life. Shaw’s script establishes Ilsa as an articulate storyteller. Dressed handsomely, wielding her pretty china in front of an ornate picture frame on the back wall, the aesthetic is one of elegant, cultivated domesticity. As the trauma at the heart of her tale reveals itself, these tokens begin to feel hollow and desperate. With deliberate and purposeful posturing, director David Agro maintains an atmosphere of steadily mounting tension and dread. 

INTERMISSION MAGAZINE: The show’s ending is effective. After Ilsa reveals her secret to Gunter, she retreats into her mind; the lights signify this shift by isolating her in a realm of her own. A repeated phrase, made meaningfully meaningless by Shaw’s chanting of it, gives further weight to Ilsa’s journey into the subjective. Her memories are traumatic Considering Canadian theatre’s abundance of solos shows rooted in autobiography, her.’s concept, which seems to be largely fictional, is very welcome. Rather than playing herself, Shaw constructs a complex, three-person period piece all on her own. It’s a daring undertaking. 

THE SLOTKIN LETTER: Toronto, 1954. The set for her. is elegant and spare. Ilsa (Deborah Shaw) appears carrying a silver tea service and later an arrangement of pastries. Ilsa is fastidious looking, perfectly dressed for the time. Ilsa’s voice is bright and cheerful in greeting her guests. Helga and Gunter are ushered into the room. This is all suggested—there are no other actors playing these parts. Ilsa is not imagining these characters, it’s a performance choice of Deborah Shaw as Ilsa and director David Agro. In a clever creation of the dialogue we ‘hear’ what her guests are asking her by how Ilsa answers, all performed with subtlety and nuance by Shaw. When the conversation is pleasant, the smile is ever-present, gracious. When Gunter asks a difficult question Deborah Shaw’s face drops, becomes glacial, as she tries to deflect the question. David Agro’s direction is clear yet understated. It’s always good to see theatre so full of conviction and tenacity as this production is. I’m glad I saw her. 

A VIEW FROM THE BOX: When afternoon coffee and pastries turns into more of an interrogation, Ilsa finds herself irrevocably trapped in a battle between her well-hidden past and newly-minted present. Deborah Shaw’s her. explores this dilemma in which Ilsa finds herself. Directed by David Agro and starring Shaw, her. is a pointed exploration of the power of words to unlock some of our deepest, darkest secrets. I enjoyed the simple set for the performance; with it being a one-woman show, it ensured the focus was on Shaw throughout. The empty picture frame was especially eye-catching to me, and I like the mysterious element it’s given in the second portion of the play. The costume really gives us the idea of the time period: a stunning black and white dress with red accents is perfectly befitting a 1950s hostess. 

The more Ilsa confesses, the more engrossed I became; Shaw’s charisma and ability to remain slightly mysterious no matter how much she unburdened made for a very intriguing show. Shaw gives a stellar performance in her. You can feel every secret, the pain of every admission, the hurt at the accusations, all emanating from Shaw as the piece unfolds. Her perfect posture and polite manners were exemplary of the time and added another layer to the new persona Ilsa has created for herself. You can feel Shaw’s affinity for this character she’s created throughout her performance. I cannot wait to see what other intricate and enticing characters she’ll bring to life next.

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