Botticelli In The Fire & Sunday In Sodom

Toronto playwright Jordan Tannahill rewrites history in brilliant double bill

Presented by Canadian Stage in collaboration with the Department of Theatre in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design at York University
Written by Jordan Tannahill
Directed by Matjash Mrozewski and Estelle Shook

Stephen Jackman-Torkoff and Salvatore Antonio. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Award-winning Toronto playwright Jordan Tannahill’s latest offering is an impressive double bill that provides a fresh and poignant take on the lives of two figures from the past. As Tannahill explains in the playbill, his muses for Botticelli in the Fire and Sunday in Sodom were, in fact, two singular details about the lives of Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli and Lot’s (unnamed) wife in the Old Testament. These details precipitated two entertaining plays that together explore the complex politics of authorship and the power dynamics that lurk beneath the stories we tell ourselves.

The historical record notes that under the influence of the notorious religious zealot friar Girolamo Savonarola, Botticelli renounced his decadent lifestyle and burned some of his paintings in the infamous “Bonfire of the Vanities” of 1497 as penance for his sinful past. As related in the Old Testament, Lot’s wife’s claim to fame is that she turned into a pillar of salt for the disobedient act of looking back at Sodom as her family fled its destruction. As Tannahill points out, neither of these tales were told by the figures they concern, and it is well known that the Western theological and historical canons are overwhelmingly the work of heterosexual men. But can these men speak for Botticelli and "Lot’s wife?" Could they ever? Should they have?

Botticelli in the Fire and Sunday in Sodom beg the question: what if the stories that have made it into the Western Canon got it wrong sometimes? What if Botticelli burned his paintings for a reason other than religious conversion? What if Lot’s wife's reason for gazing back at her hometown had nothing to do with weakness? What would these two figures have said if they had been given the chance to share their own stories? Tannahill takes these questions as the jumping off point for a fascinating double bill that explores the possibilities that come alive when someone new controls the narrative.

Botticelli in the Fire comes first. Loosely set in the early Renaissance period, Botticelli (Salvatore Antonio), Savonarola (Alon Nashman), Botticelli’s lover Leonardo da Vinci (Stephen Jackman-Turkoff), Lorenzo de’ Medici (Christopher Morris), and Medici’s wife—also Botticelli’s lover—Clarice (Nicola Correia-Damude) all have cell phones and speak in modern vernacular. This is a risky stylistic choice that works beautifully, lending the characters both humour and emotional accessibility. The incredibly charismatic cast is led by the decadent and sardonically flamboyant Botticelli. Against a stark white backdrop, we watch Boticelli’s tumultuous love affair with da Vinci unfold alongside a very tenuous relationship of necessity with Medici, and a raunchy affair with Clarice. Emotional intensity is high as the plague proves less threatening than the terrifying Medici.

Sunday in Sodom exercises the same winning creative license, transposing modern vernacular and values onto an ancient tale, to powerful effect, and presenting Lot’s wife as a feminist icon in the process. In an extremely moving monologue, Lot’s wife (Nicola Correia-Damude) gives a rundown of her day— which began as just another Sunday in Sodom, but ended in tragedy after two “angels” appear in the form of American soldiers. Calamity ensues, family members are killed and while she flees the city, she wonders if her daughter and grandchild, who were left behind, made it out. So yes—she looks back.

Tannahill’s latest work is an emotionally powerful creative tour de force. Together, these two fantastic plays provide a powerful condemnation of a historical tradition that has routinely shamed women and ridiculed homosexuality. In riffing on two relatively well known stories, Tannahill has provided a rich new take on our past with an emotional edge that really resonates.

Boticelli in the Fire and Sunday in Sodom run until May 15, 2016 at the Berkeley Street Theatre. Visit for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Sun, 2016-04-24 - Sun, 2016-05-15
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