Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,

Plan B By Michael Healey, directed by André Dimitrijevic, a Phoenix Players production.

Crying wolf too often may create indifference to a real threat. In Plan B, playwright Michael Healey presents a satirical and cynical look at Quebec’s regular return to the possibility of separation/sovereignty.

In the real world of the Quebec referendum of 1995, the threat almost became reality with less than one percentage point separating the go/stay votes. In Healey’s 2002 play, the separatists succeeded in a close vote (53%/47%).

In Plan B, set in a hotel room across the river from the nation’s capital, negotiations to arrange Quebec’s exit from Canada are underway. The catch, quickly revealed, is that these talks are merely a cover — complete with purposeful leaks to the media —while genuine negotiations take place elsewhere

In addition, a sexual connection between Michael, the senior negotiator for the Canadian government, and Lise, the Quebec minister of intergovernmental affairs (apparently in both senses of the word), serves as a metaphor for the uncomfortable relationship between the federal government and a province using the threat of departure to manipulate its way to special privilege.

The script is clever and the satire spiky enough to make many valid points, but the pattern of repeat sequences and the playing of the endless and often pointless debate goes on too long — as does the question of sovereignty and special status for Quebec. In 2002, the possibility of separation was more immediate than in 2017, though the threat/special treatment scenario seems unchanged.

Despite the tedious nature of aspects of a script that has less impact today, the Phoenix Players’ production, directed by André Dimitrijevic, is crisp and entertaining. Little can be done about the short-scene format or a metaphor that has no end, returning instead to reconvening for further discussion.

Nevertheless, Dimitrijevic delivers a strong production with a well-chosen cast. Both in terms of physical appearance and performance quality, all four are highly effective. Melanie Houde is particularly strong as the separatist career woman, Lise, while Tim Kilbourn as the gruff, foul-mouthed Saskatchewan MP, Colin, and Gilles Roy as the pragmatic head of Quebec, Mathieu, are entirely convincing in their roles.

Dan DeMarbre, as the foolish chief federal representative, Michael, has a harder time, mainly because he has to appear both empty-headed and ambitious. (And, presumably Healey’s script calls for it, but why is it necessary for him to remove his pants and display a rainbow of boxers?) Another costume glitch that is hard to understand is outfitting Colin in scarlet slippers. It is difficult to picture this tough farmer from the Prairies ever so clothed.

In general, however, Dimitrijevic and his cast handle the political nuances with assurance, although Plan B drags out the debate to the point that no one cares about the result. Perhaps this means that satire has blended into reality.

Phoenix Players’ production of Plan B continues at the Gladstone to April 8.

Director and set: André Dimitrijevic

Lighting: Anthony Neary

Sound: John Barnard

Costumes: Zhanna Parashcuk

 

Cast:

Lise Frechette……………………………………………..Mélanie Houde

Colin Patterson……………………………………………Tim Kilbourn

Mathieu Lapointe…………………………………………Gilles Roy

Michael Fraser……………………………………………Dan DeMarbre