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Jacqui du Toit in 'The Omnibus Bill'. Photo: Andrew Alexander.

In conversation with playwright Darrah Teitel: The Omnibus Bill—opening 05.31.19

By Colin Noden on May 22, 2019

I spent fifty minutes in conversation with playwright Darrah Teitel. The focus was on her newest production The Omnibus Bill which is being presented by TACTICS at Arts Court Theatre. It was the catch in her voice that convinced me this play is worth seeing.

It happened as she recounted an incident of helping a traumatized woman on the street. I saw the look of surprise in her eyes as the memory of compassion hit. Then the welling of tears. But most important was how she simply allowed the emotion to rise and then settle into our conversation. It became our guide as we explored some of the most contentious issues in our society.

There is a foundation of compassion to the play, and the playwright; which I believe, will make it powerful and transformative.

The Omnibus Bill is an ambitious undertaking. It’s been in development for about seven years. Tested in readings and workshops. Penned by a veteran playwright. Inspired by a clever act of betrayal in 1969. Provoked by a recurrence of tactics in 2014. And given urgency by the emerging zeitgeist. It promises to be timely and challenging.

But how do I explain to a friend I’m inviting, that the play is not just for activists and policy wonks?

“I’m confused about the focus of the play,” I confessed. “You have volatile topics. Politics, abortion, feminism. You have people from each camp using tactics to get their way… and then there’s this poor woman having to navigate it all.”

“You make the point beautifully,” replied Darrah. “The play is very much about the clash between political ideology and lived experiences… At the centre of the play is a person who just needs her goddamn healthcare. And the way she is abused and used in order to confirm or deny other people’s politics is the real tragedy of this process.

“And those people range from Pierre Elliott Trudeau to the midwife who’s trying to get her an abortion. Each one of those people are guided by their own politics and ideology and actively refuse to see the person. The individual in the story before them.

“And that’s why human rights is so important. Because it centres on the individual.”

I got it. It’s a powerful drama centred on an individual, who could be any one of us, given the right mix of issues and power struggles.

I joked with Darrah and told her my working title of this piece is “A Cautionary Tale.”

“Sure, yeah. Good one.” she replied. We then talked about the implications of allowing others to take control of our bodies. Abortion and sex worker rights were legal precedents; but it takes little imagination to see other issues which face us. Injection centres, end of life rights, who to love, how to define yourself, how to express yourself… the thoughts are endless.

“I want a play to leave my audience deeply implicated. Considering, not just how they feel sympathy for the characters; but what they can do next in their lives when they walk out of this play…”

“I think that’s one of the most important political functions of art. It allows people to consider things. To create space away from the dogma. To do a deep dive into the emotional realities that are underneath all of these politics, and all of these camps. It’s more than empathy. It allows things to be more complicated. As they are in life.

“But I want more! I want a play to leave my audience deeply implicated. Considering, not just how they feel sympathy for the characters; but what they can do next in their lives when they walk out of this play… To consider more deeply and emotionally, their responsibilities.”

Jacqui du Toit in ‘The Omnibus Bill’. Photo courtesy of TACTICS.

But how do I explain to a friend I’m inviting, that the play is not just for activists and policy wonks?

I must say, Teitel is one impressive mind. She thinks and speaks in paragraphs! I tend to take a thought and chase it around until words come out.

The tears were transformed. The hope of compassionate transformation, which guided our conversation, was finally articulated. That’s a big goal. But it’s something that separates art from propaganda. And Teitel definitely identifies her role of playwright as an artistic mission.

Darrah also cautioned about assumptions. Don’t think she’s a preachy writer. “There are twists in the play. There are surprises. It’s not a forgone conclusion who are the heroes and who are the villains.”

Oh good! Now we get to the fun stuff. Twists. Villains. Heroes.

“The hero of this piece is not who you think it is.”

“I’m not going to give away the ending.”

“The ending?’ I replied, in my most innocent manner. “Why? Does someone die?”

She opened her mouth but spotted the trap.

“No spoilers! I hope to see you at the opening, so you can find out.”

We both smiled. Touché.

I’ll be there.


The Omnibus Bill by Darrah Teitel is playing at Arts Court Theatre (2 Daly Ave) from May 31 to June 8, 2019. Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm. Matinee Saturday June 8 at 2pm. Preview performance on May 30. Tickets cost $20 online and at the door. The main entrance to Arts Court is up a flight of about twenty steps. For barrier-free access, enter through the new Ottawa Art Gallery building. The OAG and Arts Court are connected by hallways.


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