by Joel Fishbane
If nothing else, you have to give them points for effort: in telling the story of the struggle of female doctors in 19th century Canada, the students who run Empty Box Theatre have chosen a unique subject to bring to the Fringe. While academically intriguing – the company has done its research – the show ultimately fails to mine the dramatic potential lurking behind its premise.It’s 1882 and Queen’s University has opened its medical college to women, played here by Samantha Wymes, Signy Lynch and, in a strange move, a cross-dressing Robert Elliot. Gender-bending in the minor roles can be forgiven, but in a play in which gender plays such a powerful theme, cross-casting seems to work against the play’s own theme. The story of the play follows the academic year and focuses mainly on the struggles between the students and the sexist Dr. Fenwick (Jonathan Phillips).
There’s a lot of potential in the conflict between Fenwick and his students; although Fenwick advances “new” ideas such as sterilization, he is against women doctors, creating a unique hypocrisy which is never properly explored. Ultimately, this is a story still in search of a more intriguing dramatic shape – and one hopes the company will one day find it, especially since the subject matter is so compelling.