Kingship DeFacto

Sunday I attended Kingship DeFacto by Adam Burgess at the annual Summerworks festival. This is a juried festival with considerable prestige in Toronto.

The story is about Ben (Scott McCulloch), a wishy-washy politician under the influence of his powerful advisor Becker (Stephen Kent) who must decide whether or not to remove troops from the city streets, as advised by elected representative Lindsay (Irene Carl).

I was shocked to read Jon Kaplan’s review in Now Magazine. The director, my friend MK Piatkowski, did not deserve his glib dismissal. The acting was good, yet Kaplan gave only one star to an interesting, thought-provoking play. Kaplan’s criticism, that “Adam Burgess’s script, mostly rhetoric and glib laughs, never suggests believable relationships or involves us in the feelings of the characters,” partially misses the point.

This is an issues play, not a love story. In parliament and on the news, politicians use language to intimidate and to manipulate facts. I enjoyed this illustration of words as weapons as much as I enjoy satire on the same topic. Playwright Adam Burgess’s take is refreshing and dramatic.

Burgess majored in philosophy and I appreciated Becker’s Nietzchian rhetoric, although his misogynist statements seem too bare in the context of this complex character. The play implies there are soldiers in the streets of a western country, probably Canada, to defend people and the government from protesters and terrorists. Projected images from the FLQ crisis and references to the death of a boy protester, “shot in the back,” evoke Ipperwash, the war on terror, Vietnam protests… The target here is not one specific incident, but the way the unelected party ‘machine’ influences decisions made by elected leaders. When leading is reduced to following the polls and the pundits, the power of our votes is lost.

While the female lead, Linday, is too weak, the flaw is not her weakness but her dialogue. Lindsay, the voice of sanity in this play, never finishes a thought or a sentence. This is frustrating because we are told she is popular with the voters. I expected at least one good speech. I understand that Lindsay should be cut off by the men in charge but the playwright narrowly misses an opportunity.

In a cellphone conversation, Lindsay is able to complain of feeling alone. She is hated by party members as a dissenter. Linday thinks there is one last chance to prevent the worst if Ben will reverse his security policies but she is helpless and I have no quibble with that. What is frustrating is her inability to finish a sentence. This makes her statements too repetitive and too similar in form to Ben’s uneasy incoherence.

Without support for Lindsay and her constituents, there is no opposition to the extreme right-wing politics that Ben and Becker represent. Democracy is deeply flawed because our representatives are often weak and stupid like Ben or corrupted by power and ideology like Becker or powerless like Lindsay.

I will be watching for Adam Burgess’s next play. He is very young, voted Edmonton’s “Best Artistic prodigy,” by Vue Magazine. Am I envious of his ability to write this tight, dramatic play at any age? You betcha.

Now listening to — Monologues

I haven’t been blogging lately due to computer problems. They are not completely fixed but I’m posting anyway.

I spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening plus all day today casting a play.

I haven’t been reading much, but I did listen to over 85 prepared monologues plus another 80 or so cold readings. I’ve found myself thinking in monologues, while brushing my teeth, while taking the train… In fact, since I’m shamelessly writing about myself here, I guess you could call this a blog-o-logue.

My callbacks are Wednesday. Heck, I almost feel like a big shot director! 😉 Well, not really… but I’ve seen a lot of humblingly good talent. One of the highlights has been hearing different interpretations of the same pieces.

For the New Ideas Festival, directors choose their favorites from the open casting call and then arrange callbacks. There is no guarantee that the actor you like best will not choose a different show in the festival. The organizers have the final say, however, and they take great pains to keep it fair. So far I’ve been extremely impressed by the Alumni Theatre’s organization and welcoming attitude. I can’t commend these volunteers enough.

Happy reading!

Crispy, crunchy, wholesome: Cereal Girl

Judith Thompson — Perfect Pie

I went to see the Alumni Theatre production of Perfect Pie, directed by Paul Hardy. Judith Thompson has won two Governor General’s Awards for her plays, plus a handful of other writing prizes for stage and radio.

As we were being seated, Andy Fraser who plays Patsy, made a pie on stage. Her careful gestures helped get us into the mood of the piece. I also liked the use of shim-covered structures which were rotated and either lit to reveal the interior or kept dark to block our view. Sometimes it’s the low-budget shows that I like best. The emphasis is on acting in an intimate space, a feeling which is hard to create at a big musical or the opera.

The subject matter, too, demanded sensitive treatment. Patsy, a farmer, sends a tape inviting her one-time best friend Francesca, to visit her. Over the course of this visit, the women revisit their intense friendship. Francesca, who was christened Marie, ran away from her abusive parents and the youth of the town who harassed her for being poor, Catholic and unsubmissive.

The flashbacks, which inform and dramatize the women’s reminiscences, are acted out by Young Patsy and Marie.

In the culminating moment, both women relive a train accident that transformed them forever. Their roles reverse and evolve as they exchange intimacies with an intensity day-to-day friends never experience. Both women know this visit is the first and last, but it changes them forever.

This memorable play premiered at the Tarragon Theatre in 2000 and deserves to be produced often.

Legends at the Royal Alex

Today I saw Legends starring Joan Collins and Linda Evans. I don’t expect the Mirvish subscription series to be edgy but it generally provides quality entertainment. As usual, the sets were lovely, the costumes professional. Today’s play, unfortunately, was boring. The jokes blunt; the repartee, tired.

To be fair, the script was more to blame than the leads. The supporting cast members were colourful and energetic. I enjoyed watching “Boom Boom Johnson,” the strip-o-gram guy, parachuted into the plot by coincidence, to inject sexiness into a show that should have some…

The most amazing moment, for me, was the end when a patron seated behind me exclaimed that this was the best show she’d ever seen. Poor thing.

I never did understand the appeal of Dynasty. In the eighties I scorned the soaps and preferred music videos. Still do.