What better city than the nation’s capital and what better time than with a federal election hot on our heels for the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) to debut their 41st season with Michael Healey’s politically-charged satirical piece, Generous.
Healey, an award-winning playwright, is no stranger to stirring up controversy in the theatre scene with his blunt, farcical way with words. If you were lucky enough to catch a showing of Proud two years ago at GCTC – his recent play, based on an all-too-familiar overbearing prime minister, that resulted in his resignation after an 11 year stint at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre – than you’ve got a good idea of what to expect from this piece.
Generous, originally written 10 years ago, is the first installment in a trilogy that includes Proud and Courageous. In comparison, this play is fairly tame in that it doesn’t outright target one specific political party or figure but instead draws from our own inner politics in the business of love – or for the love of business. Whether it was a result of wishful thinking or a little bit of lady luck, Eric Coates, the GCTCs Artistic Director, couldn’t have counted on a more opportune time for this debut.
Now on to the performance itself.
In the dimly lit theatre, a hush settles over the audience. A quote is projected onto the simple two-walled backdrop:
“Slit her throat”
– Brian Mulroney, former Prime Minister of Canada, discussing a member of his cabinet.
Set 15 years ago in Ottawa, the “PMO” – Marc (Kristina Watt), an ostensibly French Canadian – and his band of misfit employees are facing a collapsing minority government when one of his junior ministers walks into the room, unnoticed, clenching her bloodied stomach. Amongst the sea of profanity and chaos, it is revealed that the minister has stabbed a rival MP under the guise of party loyalty. As the room erupts in cover up conspiracies, the minister slowly bleeds to death.
The first scene of this multi-layered play has it all: heated debates, profanity, comedic relief, and even murder. But it set the bar too high for the rest of the performance, leaving the other scenes a little lacking in the dramatics and unimpressive in comparison.
In this small 6-person cast, there was no denying the strength and versatility of the female leads. Watching Kristina Watt’s transform from the gender bending role of the obscene, howling “PMO” into the reserved, soft-spoken widowed judge, Maria, was astounding. Watt’s masterfully crafts an air of authority mixed with fragility as Maria’s story begins to finally take shape in the latter half of the play thanks to an unusual one-night-stand with a young law clerk in her office.
Marion Day brings her fiery A-game to the role of Julia – a promiscuous, firecracker Albertan oil tycoon. After escaping the grips of cancer and being awarded a second shot at life, she decides her new purpose is to join the political sphere in the most laughable cause she can think of: the environment. Day’s character is a force to be reckoned with and her take-no-shit attitude is a refreshing and entertaining surprise. She commands the audience’s attention, leaving her on-stage counterpart, Adam Pierre, in the shadows of her powerful performance.
Drew Moore’s portrayal of Alex, the endearing albeit chatty law clerk, stole the show. True to his character, Moore played a convincing millennial stereotype – that of a young professional with his head in the clouds, the daydreaming generation. As the self-aware “I love you guy”, he is undoubtedly the play’s embodiment of altruism and quite possibly the name of the play itself. Given the heady task of memorizing lengthy, poetic, and often rambling monologues, Moore rose to the challenge and delivered what I believe was such an honest performance that I question whether he’s really the “I love you guy” in real life.
The play was structurally complicated, void of any entwinement for the first half of the performance – albeit comedic and entertaining as it was. Act 1 is divided into three seemingly unrelated stories that are picked back up and continue into Act 2. By the end of the performance, these isolated stories have started to converge together – creating a somewhat clearer linear timeline of events. Because there are two other plays proceeding Generous, the audience is left only with their imagination as to how the rest of these stories will play out. I know I’m personally hoping GTCTC will bring back Proud and Courageous.
Generous runs until September 27th at the GCTC (1233 Wellington St. W.). Tickets range from $30.98 to $46.02 and are available through the GCTC website.