Thirteen Hands


61 pages
ISBN 0-921368-30-5
DDC C812'.54




Reviewed by Cecily M. Barrie

Cecily M. Barrie is a graduate drama student at Mount St. Vincent
University in Halifax.


In this play, as in much of her other writing, Carol Shields skilfully
celebrates women whose lives are usually overlooked. Her revisionist
focus here is on the weekly bridge club, a place, Shields says, “where
many women have felt most brilliantly alive” and where dramatic
counterpoint arises from the tension between “continuity and
replacement.” In the play, the bridge-table circle comes to represent
more than a pedestrian event in the lives of several generations of
women. Shields uses it as a trope to signify contiguity and the
generative dynamics of women discoursing.

The play’s structure is extremely flexible, particularly in terms of
the stage setting, the costumes and costume changes, the use of
contextual references in the dialogue, and the wide variety of sound
forms to choose from. This open design, while it provides many
opportunities for the director to evoke a genuine tone of spontaneity on
stage, also requires that careful attention be paid to production

“Clara” brings the audience into the play’s narrative by
introducing the original women of the card-game circle and describing it
as a safe place where the women can act as they wish. Her narrative is
periodically interrupted by mannequin characters and flashes forward to
later generations of the card-game players. There is also an interlude
of choral chanting that energetically reinforces the theme of women
seeking community as they live out their lives in a long sequence of
small actions. The anecdotes told by the women characters will strike a
funny and familiar chord with women in the audience, as will the
brilliantly casual, mundane dialogue Shields has created.


Shields, Carol., “Thirteen Hands,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024,