Sally Sparrow

Bridge on the stage

Hands held tight through thin and thick.

It takes thirteen tricks to make a hand,

And thirteen hands to do the trick.

On Tuesday afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a performance of Thirteen Hands, a play written by late Canadian author Carol Shields. It was directed by Claren Grosz and presented by the Alumnae Theatre Company in Toronto, impressively in their 100th year. This is a play about women, a play about memory, about connection – to ones friends and family throughout generations – and yes, you guessed it, a play about bridge.

When I say it’s a play about bridge, well, it doesn’t actually mention the word ‘bridge’ once. But from the very first lines of the play, when four women dressed in black and red introduce themselves as “east”, “north”, “south” and “west”, those of us in the audience who play the game felt our skin start to tingle. The opening scene is lively with the described action of a bridge game as the characters move around the stage. I immediately thought of all my bridge partners, my mother, and others I’ve shared a game with – I must tell them to come and see this play too!

The thirteen acts are a trip into the minds of several generations of women who meet weekly over a bridge game. The group is initially formed among company wives who feel they have nothing in common, but they quickly find connection, becoming support for each other throughout their lives. As daughters and finally granddaughters join the group, sometimes forced to fill in for missing or departed members, memories from the group are shared with new members. Main character Clara states, when questioned as to what the group discussed: “We talked about our mothers.”

Actors come and go, but always four players remain at the table, interchanging as the conversation flows. The actors do a wonderful job of representing shifting time periods, from the Twenties right up until this play was written in 1993. Costume changes and set design enhance the experience of the shifting time periods. The nine-women cast is brilliant, each of them playing their younger and older selves. Actress Sandi Globerman is compelling as Clara, who recollects her friends as she takes stock of her life: “You know, sitting there, the four of us, we were as close together as people can get.”

As Carol Shields states in her Playwright’s Note, “for many years I’ve been interested in the lives of women, particularly those lives that have gone unrecorded.” For me, this play was a homage to those women, but also to a game that brings people together to share memories and find connection. As a young person playing the game, so often I find a bridge to generations past, to those ‘lives unrecorded’, and that’s one of the best parts of the game for me.

“It was as if our brains were so busy, counting points, planning the next move, trying to guess what was in our partner’s head, and you know, we got so we could do just that, it was like a kind of enchantment — Oh, it was a strange thing, those cards slipping out of one hand into another.”

Thirteen Hands runs through Nov. 4, 2017 in Toronto. Tickets at www.alumnaetheatre.com.


6 Comments

LindaOctober 27th, 2017 at 4:36 pm

This reminds me of my mom and her bridge friends who played together once a week for many years moving the game to each of their homes. They put money in the kitty each week and eventually had enough to take a trip together to Alaska.

Sally SparrowOctober 27th, 2017 at 4:49 pm

Amazing!

Judy Kay-WolffOctober 30th, 2017 at 3:59 am

Hi Sally,
I truly loved your blog. Wished I were closer to Canada to witness it in person.
Your reference brings back memories I have related before. I filled in one time about sixty years ago at my mother's monthly bridge outing as she was vacationing in Florida. I know the feeling of desperation when in need of a fourth, so I happily acquiesced. It was a lovely evening .. but I have to share a humorous incident. At one point, after I bid an obvious 4C .. with three puzzled faces and no response, I sheepishly asked .. "Do you use Gerber?" After a moment, one lady popped up .. "No, we all use (I think she replied) Taylor as he is so much cheaper.” Apparently, the two plumbers were competitors!
So be it!

Sally SparrowOctober 31st, 2017 at 4:14 pm

@Judy, what a hilarious story!! You should seek out your local theatre company and see if they have any interest in this wonderful play. Maybe in 2019 during the Nationals??? 🙂

Fred LernerOctober 31st, 2017 at 6:00 am

My daughter is taking me to see it on Thursday

Sally SparrowOctober 31st, 2017 at 4:11 pm

@Fred, you will love it, I’m so happy you’ll get to see it!

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