All The Little Animals I Have Eaten: a carnivorous Karen Hines satire, at Shadow Theatre

Dayna Lee Hoffman (top), Coralie Cairns, Elena Porter, Sophie May Healey, Noori Gill in All The Little Animals I Have Eaten, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Ian Jackson

By Liz Nicholls,

My name is Frankie, and I will be your server tonight….

All The Little Animals I Have Eaten, the dark and intricate Karen Hines comedy that unsheaths its cutlery tonight at Shadow Theatre takes us to a trendy high-end bistro with a menu so locally sourced you can have a philosophical discussion with your lamb before it gets to your plate (with a demi-glaze).

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La Ferme, attached to an all-woman condominium, is a magic kingdom where well-heeled urban professionals and creative types — real estate agents, plagiarists, insurance adjustors, hedge fund daughters, influencers, an ‘equine masseuse’ — can be overheard exercising the “accelerated feminine consciousness” in conversation. In short it is the kind of place that Frankie, a debt-ridden thesis-throttled student in the throes of writing a 3-D feminist paper formed as an origami fortune-teller (“The search for literally and figurative women’s spaces, from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own to the contemporary real estate market space”) will never ever be able to afford to call home. 

Suicided writers — Virginia Woolf, Anne Sexton, Frida Kahlo among them — are there, too, along with plucky mollusks and lamb existentialists, and Frankie’s trio of versatile alter-egos. Hines, on the phone from Calgary where she’s based, calls it “a night gallery, a Bluebeard’s castle.” 

Dayna Lea Hoffman, centre, All The Little Animals I Have Eaten, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Ian Jackson.

With its all-female cast of people, assorted animals, ghosts, it lands in a collage of scenes as dialogue, or captions, or lists, with women talking about real estate, about insurance, about plagiarism, solar power and whether tilapia is farmed … about, well, everything except men. Hines traces the origins of All The Small Animals I Have Eaten  back to her discovery of the Bechdel test, once new and still relevant. Named for the cartoonist and graphic artist Alison Bechdel in her comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, it’s a cultural test for sussing out gender bias in film and theatre by noting whether at least two (named) female characters talk to each other, about something other than men.

playwright Karen Hines

“I was fascinated,” says Hines, musing that Cats passes the test and Shakespeare most often does not. “And I thought about the things I’ve written and the things I’ve performed in … and the memory of doing The Newsroom in the ‘90s.” 

Hines got cast in the superlatively funny Ken Finkleman series when the comic actor Jeremy Hotz “got whisked away to L.A. to do Speed II and make a zillion dollars and I was pulled in to play him, basically,” says Hines. “I did the first season of that show saying Jeremy’s lines … I got to say everything that Jeremy would have said and I LOVED IT. Because I was playing a producer who wasn’t a ‘girl producer’. I was in meetings with the guys and I was toughing it out with them. And I was only talking about the job, the news, and the food we were going to eat for lunch.” 

“Next season, when I was talking about my boyfriend and having lunch with the other female characters, wasn’t nearly as much fun.… I was a ‘female producer’.” Hines says “that was a real spark for me.”

The play, which premiered at the High Performance Rodeo in Calgary in 2017 (Blake Brooker directed the One Yellow Rabbit production), was slated for a Nightwood Theatre production in 2020 that fell victim to the pandemic 10 days before opening night. A Zoom fund-raising edition, “everyone in their bedrooms,” inspired Hines to create one of the country’s first big Zoom plays thereafter: Get Me The Fuck Out Of This Zoom Play, later re-named The River of Forgetfulness. 

Dayna Lea Hoffman in All The Little Animals I Have Eaten, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Ian Jackson.

For the Alexandra Dawkins production of All The Little Animals I Have Eaten we’ll see at the Varscona, Hines has made some changes from 2017— new scenes, big cuts, minor updates that include athleisure-wear and barre classes but do not, she assures (laughing) jump to include AI. “The server everything orbits around, questioning her place in that feminist lineage, and her origami fortune-teller, and her quest for feminist conversations, is very much still there.”

“A few things no longer felt relevant,” Hines says. But to her surprise, “so much of it didn’t feel dated…. Are we moving more slowly? Is it because we went into a deep freeze for three years? So many things that were edgy or new in 2017 are part of our lives now…. Interesting.” 

The play is the third of what Hines calls, a wicked smile in her voice, her “real estate trilogy.” The term “Kafkaesque” far outpaces “cautionary” in describing Crawlspace, a 2015 solo comedy based on her grotesque real-life nightmare of buying a tiny house in Toronto. Drama: Pilot Episode, 2012, like Little Animals I Have Eaten, unleashes magic realism in a live/work condo space, this one in a western oil town: “bison skulls everywhere, all the floors made of stone, used to be an abattoir.” 

“Real estate has become a fascination for me,” she says wryly. “Now that I don’t have any.”

The play came together in scenes. In the first she wrote, as an experiment, two women are drinking, and one remembers suddenly she has a dog she’s forgotten about (“well, it’s very small”). “I wrote another one, not in the play but I miss it!, where a woman has been mauled by a cougar in her condo. And the new buyer had found out about it after buying…. Maybe I was too close to it!” laughs Hines, thinking of her own real estate PTSD. “Maybe I should put it back in.” More scenes followed, unconnected at first, “and I thought they could be related if they were all in a restaurant, all connected by the server. So I started writing bits and pieces for her to say. And it just grew, sort of reverse writing.”  

Hines’ razor wit and zest for macabre hilarity is something Edmonton audiences know about. We first met her in 1992 at the Fringe, as the director of two horror clowns, Mump and Smoot, and in person as a smudge-eyed chalk-faced pixie named Pochsy attached to an intravenous pole, a toxic repository of consumerist dreams, self-help slogans, and the market-driven appetites of the age. In Pochsy’s Lips, and its sequels Oh Baby and Citizen Pochsy, we followed the fortunes of the chipper doomed employee of Mercury Packers (a subsidiary of Lead World). 

She remembers her introduction of three decades ago to the Edmonton Fringe. Her two horror clown compatriots Michael Kennard and John Turner insisted on camping. “One night, and we woke up and it was snowing. In August. And I bailed (instantly), to a hotel. I remember handing out flyers in the snow!” 

The three had met at Second City in Toronto, where Hines performed (and wrote sketches) and Kennard and Turner took courses. And “we just had chemistry…. I was their outside eye from the beginning,” she says. And she held the video camera for their first outing, an application to a comedy festival, “a weird nightmarish (early) version of Mump and Smoot in terrible gibberish. They wore boxer shorts and that’s all!”

Mump and Smoot in Something with Thug

Mump and Smoot were officially born in workshops with the celebrated clown guru Richard Pochinko. Hines, though, didn’t find her clown in that course of studies. In fact, “I was a terrible clown,” she insists. “Saccharine sweet, and way too cute. I just couldn’t grab it,” though she found it really good for directing Mump and Smoot. Pochsy is more of a “high-performance” creation, with elements of bouffon, she thinks. “My (creative) triangle,” she says, was “bouffon, clown, and Second City…. The thing I hated about clowning was that I wasn’t being satirical, I was being honest.”

Satire, the darker the better, is in her DNA. “It was all over our house,” Hines says of her Toronto upbringing. “I grew up in a household where Tom Lehrer was on the record player, and my brothers read Mad Magazine.” says Hines, who’s been Calgary-based for the last few years. 

It was at the High Performance Rodeo this year that the petite but lethal mercury packer returned to the stage, in the premiere of Pochsy IV, directed by Kennard. Satire, Hines sighs, has been in tough for the last couple of years; reality has seen to that. “It took me a long time to figure out the angle of entry for this piece, but I did.” And the show will venture forth from Calgary to theatres elsewhere next season.

Meanwhile we’ll find out what our consumerist landscape looks like through the dark comic muse of a master satirist. And (prepare for a bloodbath), she’s hinting about the prospect of a new Mump and Smoot, now in progress.


All The Little Animals I Have Eaten

Theatre: Shadow

Written by: Karen Hines

Directed by: Alexandra Dawkins

Starring: Dayna Lea Hoffman, Coralie Cairns, Noori Gill, Elena Porter, Sophie May Healey

Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.

Running: through April 2

Tickets:, 780-434-5564

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