Image: Paul Rainville, Kris Joseph and Tracey Ferencz (Andrew Alexander)

Whispering Pines

By Richard Sanger

In 1987 the Soviets hold an iron grip on East Berlin. Espionage is rampant. The Stasi employ half a million informants, and every third citizen is under surveillance. In this divided city live Renate and Bruno, two artists who want to write, sing and paint their way to a new world. When Thomas, a Canadian academic, arrives on their doorstep bearing gifts from the West and dreams of life beyond the Wall, their lives are turned upside down. Years later, in a peaceful cabin surrounded by pines on the shores of Lake Superior, Renate brings the three old friends together once more to confront the secrets, passion and betrayal that tore them apart.

Dramaturgy and process

Nightswimming commissioned Richard’s play following a long collaboration between him and Nightswimming’s producer Naomi Campbell. Richard and his partner lived in Berlin in the 1980s and in this play he sought to capture the complex networks of allegiances that lived between Berliners and between Germans and visiting Canadians.

Richard, in addition to his plays, is a wonderful poet and his approach to this play was to write scenes and fragments, with the intention that they could be combined and shuffled during the creation process. Workshops and readings to test various permutations were critical to the process, revealing myriad ways that these characters might reveal their truths to one another and hold back their secrets until the right moment.

This play is a dramaturgical puzzle. Richard, Naomi and I sought out a pattern that kept the secrets reverberating among the characters, but also allowed the audience inside their tension, their paranoia, their beliefs, and their changing loyalties.

It was never just for the two of us,’ says Renate at the start of the play. She’s talking about the idyllic retreat she’s built on the north shore of Lake Superior, but she might be describing the impulse behind many of the perfect things we design, be they dinners, cabins in the woods, or new societies. Even the greediest capitalists, she observes later, like to share their wine with others. Although inspired by unique historical events—the collapse of socialism in the Eastern Bloc, the release of the Stasi files — Whispering Pines explores themes that, I hope, extend beyond those circumstances: what happens when our ideals are tested? Can we ever really be free or true? Then there are the usual dishes: love, art, betrayal.Richard Sanger


Wonderfully poetic and dramatic, filled with intelligence, emotion, perception and surprise.

The Toronto Star

Whispering Pines a gripping tale with many ah-ha moments.

The Ottawa Citizen
Tracey Ferencz has their arms wrapped around Paul Rainville’ chest, Paul has their eyes closed
Paul Rainville embracing Tracey Ferencz, laughing, at a table. Kris Joseph is seated across from them, looking at them. There are alcohol bottles on the table
Close up of Kris Joseph, Tracey Ferencz & Paul Rainville, they are all looking in the same direction