For some, this one may hit a little too close to home. If you’re with young people who want to grow up to work in the public sector, The Public Servant, the latest thing to hit the GCTC stage this spring season, may be a little too, shall we say, real. As part of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival (which I understand the cool kids are now calling “MagNorth”), The Public Servant is a series of moments from the lives of three public servants. Not the satisfying, bombastic moments one may see in a recruitment flyer—no, decidedly not those.
If ever you wanted to scare the living daylights out of someone in his or her last year of university, this play may be your perfect opportunity. The narrative follows the development of three women as they navigate the harrowing world many of us only know as The Pasture. From hope to despair and back, the story unfolds over about 10 years of their three lives. Will their dreams be completely crushed under bureaucracy? Stay tuned!
And it’s a comedy. If it’s brutal for its satire, it is equally biting in its wit. There is a wild irony covering everything in this play. Like everyone’s worst office experience, there is a sheen of strange overtop of everything, and the play exists in a surreal other-world where sense is flipped sideways.
One memorable sequence revolves around the traversal of a seemingly endless series of cubicle-lined corridors as a new upstart is led to her new office by an overly cheery boss. Both actors, Haley McGee (Madge) and Sarah McVie (Lois), do double duty as stage hands in this scene: they rearrange the hallways themselves, sliding the wheeled walls into place in perfect synchronization only to then walk through them. This achieves a certain kind of dark comedy as the characters traverse a maze constructed by themselves.
But it really is funny. All of the actors deliver exceptional comic performances, and special kudos should be given to Amy Rutherford for portrayal of the play’s five more off-the-wall characters. The three women work extremely well together, and have clearly worked long with director Jennifer Brewin at making these characters as sharp and clear as they are.
They’ve certainly had time to hone the play—The Public Servant was written and created by the four women above in 2011 and it headlined the Undercurrents festival in 2013. This production has almost five years of history in Ottawa, and it shows it in polish.
One thing that can certainly be said of this play is that it could not have come from anywhere else but Ottawa. Where else do the people have such an odd relationship with the largest employer? Where else would a play that features the on-stage production of a document that would make even the most optimistic tree-lovers lose sleep originate?
So if it gets too real, and if your 22-year-old son is laughing perhaps a little too hard and high pitched, just remember it’s only a play. You’re in a theatre, Ottawa. The Great Canadian one.
The Public Servant runs from June 2nd through June 21st at the Great Canadian Theatre Company. Showtimes are 8pm weekdays (excepting Mondays), 4pm and 8:30pm on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are available through Magnetic North. Note: This play was created by Theatre Columbus and co-developed by Theatre Columbus and the GCTC.