At last: a full evening of theatre at Great Canadian Theatre Company. This witty, slick, satirical comedic farce started at 8 pm, and with two (count ’em: two) intermissions, finished at 11:12 pm—it was like a long bubble bath with a great book and a perfect wine.
Lise Ann Johnson really proved she has comic chops here in directorial mode: so many aspects of this production worked. Of course working with this cast doesn’t hurt one’s chances of making a comic gem, and Healey’s script trod the slippery waters of Quebec-Canada politics deliciously.
I can imagine the problems that confronted playwright Michael Healey when he started this script: the dry complexity of the political issues, the logistical problem of presenting both French and English on the stage together, the issue of humanizing the characters, and just how to keep the action moving. The solutions to all of those problems are adroitly handled so that they became not problems, but luscious assets.
Of course, Healey depended upon the audience to be somewhat conversant with the Canadian version of high tragedy/farce that is politics. His core concept (that we are watching a totally empty public relations exercise to deal with the separation of Quebec from Canada, that turns into the real thing when the real thing fails) is a brilliant conceit, as it allows the characters to speculate, hypothesize, posture, fool around, and generally objectify the process so that it can become pure satire. And the supertitled translation of the bilingual proceedings is again a brilliant concept, especially if one is fluent in both languages, as both the translations are wickedly witty tweaks of the already funny situation: translating “fuck” as “colis” is a hysterical part of a neat, speed-reading look at two cultural distinctions, and all the funnier because it is so fast. If nothing else, I am certain the task of changing the supertitles kept a tacky very alert—and bravo to whomever did that.
I think one of the funniest lines in the play appears when the take-charge Prime Minister Michael , played to the hilt by Todd Duckworth, ostensibly adjourns for lunch almost immediately after convening the meeting so he can scoot off for some hanky-panky with the Quebec side’s tough but voluptuous Lise (Annick Léger), and the cynical Colin (an intense comedic turn by John Koensgen) asks Quebec Prime Minister Mathieu (a nuanced comic character by Paul Rainville) if he wants to go to lunch. Mathieu sardonically replies: “It’s ten fifteen.” You had to be there to hear the way those four set it up and delivered it. And that makes the point that these are four remarkable actors who engaged in a three-hour comic marathon that was visceral, physical, intellectual, broad, subtle, and immensely satisfying to watch and hear.
The costumes struck me immediately: it was apparent visually in the first few moments of the play who represented Canada and who Quebec, and I think the costumes were most of that, since there were no lines. I did not need the highlighted fleur de lis and maple leaf over the respective doors to clarify that.
There was one plot twist that did not work for me, and that was Michael’s flip in the last scene to reveal that he is indeed the cynical opportunist. The only planting for this is Colin’s much earlier warning to Lise. But that is not enough; we really need to see this characteristic threaded through Michael, and we don’t: he is too convincing as a sincere fool in his lust and naiveté to allow for this extreme flip.
That aside, I like this production: the set was well conceived, although the use of slick table/floor did not ever demonstrate the need to combine the two physically, and although the map on the floor and table top was clever, it served no function except perhaps to lend an air of the surreal to the farcical aspects of the production. Lighting was unremarkable but effective. The best parts of this play were the fun and wit: we get to see ourselves and our politicians and have a good laugh. I sincerely hope we see more plays like this at GCTC. Thank you, all.
Director: Lise Ann Johnson
Set & Costume Designer: Camellia Koo
Lighting Designer: Michelle Ramsay
Sound Designer: Steve Marsh
Stage Manager: Kate Macdonnell
Apprentice Stage Manager: Natalie Gisele
Performance viewed: 8 pm June 5, 2008, Great Canadian Theatre Company, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
For more information on the playwright, Michael Healey, see my other blog, Platinum River