Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,

Plan B by Michael Healey, Director and set: André Dimitrijevic

Quebec separatism  was still a burning issue when Canadian playwright Michael Healey wrote Plan B some 15 years ago. So the revival  on view at the Gladstone does seem something of an irrelevant period piece — with its lack of topicality now making the script’s deficiencies seem more pronounced.

On the positive side, there is the solid quality of  Andre Dimitrijavic’s Phoenix Players production — one in which the satirical barbs can still deliver and the great divide that continues to exist between two cultures can still be examined.

It is essentially a mischievous examination — set in the aftermath of an independence referendum that Quebec’s separatists have won by a narrow margin. Now, negotiations for the terms of separation are underway in a Hull hotel across the river from Ottawa. The federal side is represented by Michael, a decidedly hyper and befuddled chief negotiator, and Colin, a crusty and often profane Saskatchewan operative with an unsettling tendency to speak his mind. Across the negotiating table are Lise, the Quebec minister of intergovernmental affairs (and probably the smartest person in the room) and Mathieu, her phlegmatic colleague.

There’s a silly plot device here. These highly public negotiations are a sham, done for show and bolstered by the issuance of fake press releases, while the serious talks are happening in secret. But we do get familiar elements of the familiar sovereignty-versus-federalism argument — many of them trotted out with amusing and often trenchant wit. And yes, there are complications when Michael becomes enamoured with the sharp-witted Lise.

Still, much of this might emerge as tired and trivial were it not for the confidence of the direction and the responsive performances of the four cast members who have seized on the script’s most positive factor — Healey’s ability to create strong playable characters — and delivered on this in spades.

As Lise, Melanie Houde, all warmth and knowing smile,  is outstanding in communicating a combination of razor-sharp intelligence and insinuating sexuality. Gilles Roy, splendid in his use of silence and body language, is excellent as her gruff Quebec colleague. Tim Kilbourn, frequently amusing as Colin, the foul-mouthed guy from Saskatchewan, gives us more than a stereotyped redneck — we also witness the weary veteran of the political wars with a well-tuned bullshit detector.

Finally there’s the  pill-popping  chief Ottawa negotiator, Michael. He’s too much of a nitwit to be believable despite Dan DeMarbre’s valiant and creditable effort in this role. That this gibbering nonentity would be entrusted with any kind of delicate negotiation seems inconceivable — indeed, Michael makes the cement-brained Jim  Hacker, of BBC television’s Yes Minister fame, seem an intellectual giant by comparison. And what’s with the requirement that Michael strip down to his boxer shorts whenever he enters his hotel room?

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