Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: (Ottawa) The Burden of Self Awareness

(photo by Andrew Alexander)
Money or Nothing
by Jim Murchison

Martin Conboy’s set is uncluttered. Spare furnishings and three columns that rotate to reveal a wine rack when it’s a restaurant, a bookshelf when it’s an apartment and other times, like when they are outdoors it is just three columns. Conboy’s lighting is also supportive and illuminates the actors with no hoopla or effects. It is simple and doesn’t detract from the words or the actors. The conversation is the central point of The Burden of Self Awareness, George F Walker’s often very funny look at the darker side of the widening economic gulf between the wealthy and the dwindling middle class.

The play is directed by former GCTC artistic director Arthur Milner and his respect for Walker and the material allows him to confidently let the cast deliver the story effectively. They certainly do with a quirky blend of pathos, humour and realism. A lot of people may not use real as an adjective to describe Walker’s characters, but the edge of madness is something that is very real in society and I feel that the play reflects that actuality. While the events in the story are certainly concentrated and often comedic, I really think it packs a punch that isn’t overly exaggerated.  

Current artistic director Eric Coates plays Michael, a man that feels undeserving of his own good fortune after a life altering occurrence. Threatened by the jealousy that riches might foment in others, he decides that he should give most of his money away. He performs the role with a straightforward charm that makes him one of the sanest and most likeable characters, but he also exudes edginess when confronted.

Sarah McVie as Michael’s somewhat younger wife Judy is a ball of panic and hostility that uses sex as naturopathy for her acute stress disorder. She is manically obsessed with her own illusion of security. McVie digs into that need like a hawk’s talons into a field mouse.

Samantha Madely as Lianne is probably the most pragmatic of all the characters; a prostitute trying to move on to the next chapter of her life, she is definitely the most focussed, although in this group that might not be saying much. John Koensgen is the private investigator Phil who uses Jesus as a placebo for his guilt about his midlife sexual cravings while continuing to lust on.

Perhaps the most messed up and insecure character is the psychiatrist Stan played splendidly by Paul Rainville as a dumbfounded therapist incapable of defining a symptom and pathetically inept at even coming close to a diagnosis. 

There are certainly larger social questions that are at the heart of the story telling but the narrative puts forward the piece with humour so that an audience can just enjoy the experience. You can debate or discuss after the curtain goes down if you like, but first let’s have some fun. 

June 3 - 22

Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes with one intermission

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