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.