The Public Servant serves its public as a testament to the daily lives of many in our capital. A refreshing work of Canadian collective creation made by women, it is a part of Canada’s Magnetic North Theatre Festival at the GCTC. While it serves the public and possibly because of this, the show is simple, conventional and doesn’t strive to push the envelope.
As the audience enters the theatre many are handed paper slips and are asked to jot down jobs they feel are important. We soon discover the wide-eyed, eager woman collecting these slips is Madge, played by the lovely Haley McGee, heading to her first day as a government analyst. She loves the land in which she lives and cannot wait to serve those of the True North, strong and free. Soon, she meets Lois, portrayed with comic brilliance by Sarah McVie, a colourful and spirited woman herself who runs the office day to day. She charms us as she maneuvers Anna Treusch’s set of versatile office walls, dancing Madge through the maze of cubicles. By the time she sings a song about organizing closets, she holds the audience’s heart in her hand. The eldest of our heroines, Cynthia (played by the unmatchedly versatile Amy Rutherford) has watched her job change from one where she facilitates real change to one in which she is handed both problem and solution and only pushes papers.
These three women’s unique journeys are explored through movement, conventional comic sketches, and scenes of overlayed sound, giving insight into their lives in and out of the office (but for Madge, there is no real separation of the two). In addition to their central roles, McVie plays a politically correct HR worker Janis and Rutherford plays the rest of the characters, including male ones such as the suave Vik. The action comes to a head as Cynthia explodes with a charged monologue, Lois experiences happiness then heartbreak, and Madge is given an ultimatum that weighs down her heart. As she reads out the audience’s slips from the beginning of the show, she looks to the future to make real change.
This is a sweet story that rings true to many locally. And how enlivening to see such a women-driven production! The playwrights are our three actors alongside the piece’s director Jennifer Brewin. At times, jokes fall flat for those of us not in the public service but there is something for everyone in this heartfelt story as it explores the hunger to help one’s world. This show is not for those seeking anything remotely avant-garde but rather those who wish to see an enjoyable piece depicting tenacious women investigating things as seemingly small as efficiently shipping Canadians their asparagus. It is no wonder Magnetic North is using this piece as a platform to showcase these strong artists from Theatre Columbus. At the very least, you will leave with appreciation for our usually invisible heroes of the bureaucracy as well as the potential of this team of talented women.
The Public Servant
Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC), co-developed with Theatre Columbus
by Carly Billings