1979: An amusing play, not a satire

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Categories: Professional Theatre

 

Photo by Andrew Alexander

The year is 1979 and the Canadian political scene is in upheaval. The Conservative government has just replaced Trudeau’s Liberals, and the new Prime Minister, Joe Clark, is trying to govern the country on the principles of honesty, truthfulness, and adherence to his high ideals. During his short period in the cabinet, he meets with much stronger adversaries than the opposition party – human greed and corrupt nature. While he stays true to himself and to Canadians, he, as a political misfit, ultimately looses the battle.

Healey’s play consists of snapshots of the Canadian political scene from the late 1970s. We find out what happened and why through smartly incorporated text on a background screen, which gives the audience the exact facts in journalistic manner. As director, Eric Coats manages to create a very entertaining comedy, in some moments even coming close to satire. The symbolic loud music – showing that the new PM does not want to listen to endless complaints and old corrupt ways – as well as having the PM leave pieces of his wardrobe hidden throughout the office at the end of his mandate – a symbol of leaving his mark on Canadian politics despite the failure – are brilliantly devised details. The background text is so seamlessly incorporated that it does not interfere for a moment with the fast-paced verbal comedy

Actors Marion Day and Kelly Wong deliver excellent performances. Their respective characters are funny, energetic and engaging. In contrast to those two, Sanjay Talwar as the Prime Minister is calm and slow-paced, which makes his character to stand out. His honesty is genuine, his ideals seem real, his desperation catching. His performance balances the play wonderfully, and makes his role memorable.

This is a very entertaining play, full of laughs, excellent solutions and good acting. Yet, there is something lacking. The text is comedic, but it is more a humorous history lecture made out of snapshots of events in a certain time than a real satire. Satire is biting, uncompromising, allegoric, universal and unbiased. Unfortunately, there is not much depth, courage or even criticism in the play. Instead of questioning and criticizing, Michael Healey sticks to his support for the Conservative Party and his obvious adoration for Stephen Harper, a strange occurrence in a play satirizing them. His lukewarm attempt to be politically biting takes a lot away from the possible appeal of the play.

Another minor problem would be some of director’s choices. Although he did a wonderful job in connecting a number of anecdotes into a good play, some of them are questionable. Why, for example, choose a female actor to play a male character, and vice versa. It does not add anything of value to the play; it can hardly be called innovative or experimental, as it has been seen before many times, plus, it often impedes the acting. It does not sound very natural when an actor starts his/her speech in bass and finishes it in soprano. Unless you can keep it consistent all the way through, why start it at all?

Overall, despite some problems, the play is easy to follow, entertaining and full of well-deserved laughs.

 

GCTC/Shaw Festival co-production

Director: Eric Coates

Set, lighting and projections: Steve Lucas

Original music and sound: Keith Thomas

Costumes: Jennifer Goodman

Cast:

The Prime Minister………………..Sanjay Talwar

Actor A…………………………….Marion Day

Actor B…………………………….Kelly Wong

1979 plays at GCTC until April 30.


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