Saturday, September 14, 2013

Review: (Ottawa) Proud

Michael Healey, Jenny Young

Marketing and Politics
by Jim Murchison

So the play that they didn't want to do in Toronto for fear of offending Stephen Harper - but that the playwright finally produced independently - has now opened in Ottawa at the GCTC.  I am certainly no expert on politics, but before seeing the play I already thought that the worst reason to not mount a production in a free society is fear of offending a head of state.

After seeing the play I not only still feel that way, I don’t know why anyone might feel this could offend the Prime Minister. This Prime Minister who goes by the name of Stephen Harper is clearly not the current Prime Minister. Firstly, he has won the second largest majority in the history of Canadian politics which is a fantasy. Secondly, he can be described as marginally sexy, so this is obviously pure fiction. 

In fact Michael Healey’s play is as much about marketing and manipulation as it is about politics. There are few discussions about political issues and a great many more about dog wagging, media manipulation and demographic targeting. Maybe that is actually what politics has always been about anyway. That is likely the point of the play to a large extent, as this could be about any merchandising machine. Perhaps it is Mr Healey who is the marketing genius in setting this in the Prime Minister’s office.

The author himself plays the role of Harper with a nuance and understanding that one might expect coming from a crafty and witty writer that is also a skilled performer. Healey never attempts to imitate the real PM, but deftly captures an essence of assuredness at times, contrasted by nerdy awkwardness at others.

The source of much of the fluster and awkwardness is Jisbella Lyth played with disarming frankness and in your face sensuality by Jenny Young. As the newbie member in the house, she seems at first to be an irritating misfit - an onion in a bushel of apples - but as each layer of the sexy onion is peeled back it exposes a shrewd and savvy core.

Tom Barnett as Cary Baines is the crafty Chief of Staff that makes most of these ideas happen and is a thoroughly believable go-to guy working to make things work in any way possible. 

The action in this play mainly occurs in 2011 but the scenes involving Jisbella’s son Jake Lyth occur some 18 years later, when Jake played by Drew Moore has entered politics himself as an independent.  Moore’s scenes are entirely monologues that demonstrate how we all are influenced and rebel to a degree against our parents. He does a fine job of relating to the audience while adding the last layer of comment on the cyclical nature of politics and life.

The play flows with natural wit and sardonic observation very nicely, likely due in no small part to the collaborative partnership of director Miles Potter with the writer and cast, whose influence on fine tuning and rewriting the audience will never know. 

Finally, Stephen Harper was not in attendance last evening though I know he was invited. He need not fret. The play runs for some time yet, so if his schedule permits he has the rest of the month to take it in.

runtime: approximately 85 minutes with no intermission

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