Select Page

Night Passing: You can give it a pass

by | Mar 24, 2021 | Review | 2 comments

Poster advertising the Arts Club Theatre's production of Scott Button's Night PassingWell-intentioned and over two-hours long, the audio play Night Passing is, unfortunately, boring.

Set in Ottawa in 1958, playwright Scott Button’s script explores the entrapment of gay men and lesbians by the RCMP. Fueled by anti-communist hysteria south of the border, the force was trying to “cleanse” the civil service of queer folk who were, presumably, easier to blackmail.

Entrapment is, of course, blackmail by the establishment.

Just after he moves to Ottawa from a small town, Button’s protagonist, Elliot, is seduced into making out in an alley with a creepy undercover cop who insists on being called Dad. Photos are taken. Dad pressures Elliot into informing on other gay men.

As I launch into my criticisms of the script, I want to make it clear that I’m not laying them solely at Button’s feet. He’s an emerging writer and the Arts Club’s senior artists — notably Steven Drover and Rachel Peake, who acted as dramaturgs on this project — should have given Button more guidance before they allowed Night Passing to air.

Okay, here we go.

The story fails to engage partly because Elliot is so easily pushed into betrayal. The script doesn’t adequately contextualize the terror this young guy would have felt so, when Elliot blithely starts doing Dad’s dirty work, it’s hard to feel any sense of sympathy for him. Once Elliot has agreed to betray other men, the story doesn’t provide a potential escape route for him for too long, so there’s virtually no narrative tension. And there’s precious little psychological or thematic tension either: as written, Dad is an easily dismissible antagonist, a villainous cartoon of a self-loathing homosexual. (I’ve never bought the argument that our homophobic oppressors secretly want to be more like us.)

All of that said, some elements of the writing are more successful. A few examples: a parable about a cat who was turned into a woman — it’s about the inescapability of our true natures — is effective in its first couple of iterations; Button wisely uses the time-honoured radio device of direct narration for some of his storytelling; and he gives Elliot’s mom a subtle speech about the price of lying.

Under Ashlie Corcoran’s direction, the production is slick. I particularly appreciated the film noir feel of Murray Price’s original music and sound design. The actors — notably Chris Lam as Elliot, Jennifer Copping as a lesbian named Josephine, and Marco Soriano as a bureaucrat called Jim — do solid work.

It seems to me that it’s difficult for an increasing percentage of the population to imagine what homophobia was like in Canada in the 50s and 60s. That’s the result of progress, of course, so, in that sense, it’s a good thing. But the real pain of the period’s injustices demand resonant representation.

NIGHT PASSING By Scott Button. Directed by Ashlie Corcoran. This Arts Club audio play is part of the Arts Club’s new four-play audio series Listen to This. Here’s where to get tickets for Night Passing or for the whole series. Both run until September 15.


NEVER MISS A REVIEW: To get links to my reviews plus the best of international theatre coverage, sign up for FRESH SHEET, my free weekly e-newsletter.

And, if you want to keep independent criticism alive in Vancouver, check out my Patreon page. Newspapers are dying and arts journalism is often the first thing they cut. Fight back!


  1. MN

    As someone who has just listened to the first and second episodes, I disagree that this production is boring and “a pass.” Agree with a lot of your other insights.

    Strange, though, that this critique has such a harsh title and byline, is so dismissive, and then praises most of the production. Clickbait, SEO attempt, or?

  2. Colin Thomas

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, MN.

    I assure you the title isn’t clickbait. As I hope I made clear in my review, my take is that the script is weak. The script is the foundation of the show and other production elements can’t compensate for that weakness in my opinion.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

Freshsheet Reviews logo reversed

Subscribe Free!

Sign up for the FRESH SHEET newsletter and get curated local, national, and international arts coverage — all sorts of arts — every week.


Drop a line to


FRESH SHEET, the reviews and FRESH SHEET, the newsletter are available free. But writing them is a full-time job and arts criticism is in peril. Please support FRESH SHEET by sending an e-transfer to or by becoming a patron on Patreon.

Copyright ©2024 Colin Thomas. All rights reserved.