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Thursday, 14 August 2014 20:28

Toronto Theatre Review: UNKNOWN SOLDIER - Part of Summerworks Performance Festival

Unknown Soldier is one of the 34 theatrical productions at this year's Summerworks Festival.

A fictionalized drama, Unknown Soldier was inspired by the recent true story and actions of Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, a US Army Private, now a trans woman who leaked classified documents to Wikileaks and was recently sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Writer/director Jonathan Seinen's intense and very relevant one man/woman play deals with Manning's exposure of military tactics, government corruption and vital information in a changing world. But it also involves a personal drama concerning integrity, morality or the conflict of conscience and, of equal importance, the issue of sexual identity and sexual choice.

The play contains actual text from the transcripts of Manning's pre-trial hearings, court martial proceedings, public statements and online chats.

As a soldier who was privy to secret classified information, he felt he was becoming part of something he totally disagreed with and thus felt an overpowering need to disclose the highly provocative classified information for the welfare of the Country.

Manning believed that it was his moral obligation to report government injustices. That the public needed to be informed in order to spark global debate. Speaking out, even if it was considered unlawful, was preferable to obediently towing the US government party line and remaining forever silent.

Manning, as performed by Jeff Ho, frequently breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience.
"We're human and we're killing ourselves and no one cares".

“If you had free reign over classified networks … and you saw incredible things, awful things … what would you do?”

The Passe Muraille Theatre alternate space is a perfect choice for this particular production. This is one of Toronto's smallest & most intimate theatres, where the audience is so close to the action, they can't help but feel Manning's imprisonment, isolation & despair.

In fact the bare stage in this space, with its concrete walls, is by its natural design, a perfect setting for a prison cell. But the feeling of confinement is aided by Jennifer Lennon's highly inventive lighting, by Thomas Ryder Payne's appropriate music choices designed to accentuate the "in solitary" feel and by Jung-Hye Kim's cleverly sculpted giant, asymmetrical, cracked mirror hanging over the cell, reflecting the tortured and fractured nature of Manning's explosive subject matter and thinking.

On stage, scenes occur both inside and outside the cell. Present action occurs inside, while all the flashbacks concerning experiences leading up to the incarceration are enacted outside that tight cell square.

To add to the ominous eeriness of the setting, at regular intervals throughout the play we hear a monotone, detached voice ask, "Are you OK?" Because Manning was on suicide watch during his/her initial time in prison, the guard would literally ask this question every 5 minutes.

There's ample material for discussion in this production, since this is the type of play that can easily create groups in opposition and endless debate. On the one hand, there's much to admire in what Manning says and does, but it is illegal. On the other hand, one might conclude that he/she is as naïve as can be, but with truck-loads of integrity.

Jeff Ho's performance is admirable as he takes on the many roles of the various individuals of significance Manning encounters throughout his/her life, shifting with relative physical & vocal ease from character to character and gender to gender. From scene to scene, the play moves from an almost objective unfolding of the cold hard facts to Manning's very human, subjective and personal struggle.
This is definitely a production that's worth seeing.


No Latecomers


60 minutes

Written by: Jonathan Seinen
Directed by: Jonathan Seinen
Performed by: Jeff Ho
Dramaturgy by: Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman
Set and Costume Design by: Jung-Hye Kim
Lighting Design by: Jennifer Lennon
Sound Design by: Thomas Ryder Payne
Stage Managed by: Marc Benson
Produced by: Georgina Beaty, Indrit Kasapi

lemonTree creations, Architect Theatre

Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace

Remaining Performances

Thursday August 14, 6:30pm (with post-show talk)
Friday August 15, 9:30pm
Saturday August 16, 5:00pm

All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at, By phone by calling the Ticketwise Call Centre at 416-907-0468, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) August 5th-17th from 10AM – 7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)

Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows





Summerworks Festival began in 1991. The decision to mount a new fringe-style festival was a response to what was seen as a growing, under-represented small theatre community.

From the success of the first year, it was apparent that there was a definite need in the community for this type of festival. Since 1991, SummerWorks has continued to explore and respond to the needs and wants of the audience and theatre community. Each year there were improvements and revisions, instigated by the Producers, often inspired by feedback from the artists participating in the Festival. 

From 2000-2004, the Festival made significant changes in order to further distinguish itself as a unique and integral part of the Toronto theatre community. The most significant change was the gradual transition from a lottery system to a fully juried Festival. 
These changes were instrumental in raising the calibre of work so that SummerWorks is now Ontario’s premier festival of cutting-edge, exciting, professional theatre. It is the breeding ground for the mainstage shows of the future and the hub for Toronto’s most dynamic, dedicated performance professionals. 

As the largest juried and curated festival in Canada featuring predominantly New Canadian works, SummerWorks looks to program a festival that uniquely reflects Toronto and Canada’s cultural zeitgeist. 
In addition to Theatre, consisting of a Juried Series and a National Series, The Festival also features Dance, Site-Specific and Musical Works in Concert, plus theatre-oriented Live Art shows. 
For many theatre-makers, SummerWorks is a place to experiment and innovate, eventually taking the experience they gain at the festival to create bigger and better productions. 


Last modified on Thursday, 14 August 2014 21:25