Radical by Charles Hayter
Radical is based on the true story of a largely forgotten Canadian hero, Dr. Vera Peters, a quietly driven, chain-smoking Toronto cancer specialist who sought to improve the lives of women with breast cancer by finding a gentler alternative to mastectomy.
Haunted by the memory of her mother’s suffering, and motivated by a lifelong compassion for her patients, Vera discovers lumpectomy cures just as many women as mastectomy. When she embarks on a quest to convince the surgeons to change their practice, she encounters opposition not only from her old flame, chief surgeon Bernie, but also from her protective sidekick nurse Helen and from patient activist Rose, who thinks that loud protest should replace Vera’s quiet ways. As tensions mount, professional masks are dropped and anger, resentment and desperation bubble to the surface. When Vera is weakened by her own cancer, her one time ally, Frank, a young ambitious surgeon from the US, seizes the opportunity to appropriate her ideas and relegate her to a footnote in medical history.
Set in the 1970s, when a futile war was raging overseas, women were clamouring for control of their bodies, and disaffected youth were protesting the complacency of the older generation - does this sound familiar? - Radical raises timeless questions about gender, power and patients' rights in medicine, the place of Canadian medical science against its brasher American counterpart, and what it means to be a radical innovator.
Keywords: women, women's health, women's history, Canadian women, Canadian history, feminism, the 1970s, revolution, revolutionaries, biography, Canadian biography, cancer, breast cancer, oncology, cancer patients, patients' rights, medicine, medical care, health, health care
Run time: 90 minutes
Suitable for students 14+
Content notes: Contains swearing, and depiction of breast cancer surgery
Cast size: 6 actors
Male roles: 2
Female roles: 4
Casting notes: The play offers rewarding leading roles for actors 50+
Radical was first developed through the New Ideas Festival at Toronto’s Alumnae Theatre. A short, one-hour vision had a very successful run at the the Toronto Fringe in 2014. A longer version of the play had a production at Alumnae Theatre’s FireWorks Festival in 2015. Since then, there have been developmental readings at New Stages Theatre (Peterborough, ON), the University of Alberta, and Memorial University (NL). Along the way, dramaturgical input has been given by Molly Thom, Ellen David, RH Thomson, and the Bechdel Group (NYC). Most recently, in April 2023, the play had a Zoom presentation by the Village Players in Toronto. The current script is a refinement of the version used in the Village Players production.
“I found myself quite moved by the final scenes. The emotion blindsided me…Isn’t that a hallmark of really great storytelling?…this is a play you should see. Why? Because it’s a good story, well told. Because it’s a piece of Canadian history you may not know, but should. Because it’s good theatre.”
— Istvan Dugalin, Mooney on Theatre review
“Seeing Radical was a great experience in the theatre. A proud moment of Canadian medical history is brought to life in a compelling drama. We laughed more than we thought possible given the subject and yes there were tears. This play is beautifully crafted with fine performances to match. Bravo to all involved!
— David Switzer and Theresa Sears, Sears & Switzer Acting Studio
“Brilliantly captured the life of Dr. Vera Peters, courageous role model for so many of us.”
— Hon. Carolyn Bennett MD, MP