The war room is abuzz. The government may have just lost their majority and heads are going to roll. A power-hungry Prime Minister is surrounded by a bumbling group of cabinet ministers in the PMO, each obviously too stupid, too self-involved, or too guileless to be real, though the verisimilitude didn’t always escape me. Amidst the senseless commotion, a women has lurched her way into the middle of the room, her hands clutching her bleeding abdomen.
This, the first scene of Michael Healey’s Generous, playing at the GCTC and directed by Eric Coates, is the perfectly grotesque entry-point to a darkly comedic play. The government, corporate oil, media, and the Supreme Court are the objects of Healey’s play, but the subject is the virtue of generosity in the public service; and it’s not cleanly palatable when it’s found. From murder, to the spotless opinion of a naïve reporter, or the unsolicited attention that we’d rather not have, generosity takes many forms. Healey portrays a complicated kind of generosity as it plays out in the most powerful influencers in Canadian society.
Healey’s script is twisted, and dark, and its structure is deliberately disjointed. The three scenes that span the two acts of this play present three distinct storylines and flank a fifteen year gap, leaving the audience off balance. This theatrical device helps to pull the audience away from their expectation of a typical narrative structure. Though the scenes seem to mimic reality, they aren’t grounded in naturalism. Michael Healey’s script is intensely wordy, for example. The characters sink into extensive, heady, monologues that feel meta-theatrical and self-aware.
Healey’s sardonic, loquacious script finds an excellent home in director Eric Coates’ hands. The dark humour of the first act shows just how deftly Coates recognizes the satirical humour of Healey’s script. Here, the cast work as an ensemble as they portray a group of maladroit politicians in the weeds, and they pull off this clown-like sequence with flare.
From scene to scene, Coates and the cast nimbly change the playing field as they flex through the various storylines. Actress Kristina Watt is captivating as the thuggish Prime Minister, and returns later to play an undemonstrative judge caught in an affair she’d rather not have. Similarly, Marion Day embodies the idiotic junior minister, and later, brilliantly transforms into a villainous business woman at the helm of a corrupt oil company.
And if all of these elements are the limbs of the production, Jennifer Goodman’s somber, grey set and costume design is the spine. The angular, imposing grey walls that act as a backdrop for all three storylines impart the production with a nod to expressionism. From furniture to costume, it’s all equally colourless. This important visual component transports the audience to Healey’s dream-like world teeming with grotesque sequences and caricature-like characters, where lines feel like they are spilling straight from the bowels of the subconscious. Though the story is faintly grounded in reality, the overall atmosphere floats beyond it and into the realm of symbols.
This heady, sardonic, and surreal play is wildly successful. It manages to undo our expectations of generosity and what it means to truly serve the public. Generosity becomes another face of greed, and false enlightenment gives way to real dark insights into human ambition.
Michael Healey: Playwright
Eric Coates: Director
Matt Cassidy: Peter/Richard
Marion Day: Julia
Drew Moore: Alex
Adam Pierre: David
Katie Ryerson: Lily
Kristina Watt: Maria
Jennifer Goodman: Set & Costume Designer
Jock Munro: Lighting Designer
Keith Thomas: Sound Designer
Laurie Champagne: Stage Manager
Shara Weaver: Movement Coach
Jacki Brabazon: Apprentice Stage Manager