There couldn’t be a better time in Ottawa to stage politically flavoured theatre, and the Great Canadian Theatre Company is no stranger to producing shows about the statecraft in their own backyard. Two years ago Michael Healey’s Proud, a play that takes a look at the backroom of a Conservative Prime Minister’s office in 2011, opened up the 2013-2014 season at the Irving Greenberg Centre. This season we are being treated to Generous, the first installment of Healey’s trilogy which also includes Proud and finishes with Courageous. Directed by GCTC Artistic Director, Eric Coates, there is a lot about this production that is strong, however, the lack of finality, or rather, the inadequate culmination of the narrative leaves me feeling a little unfulfilled.
Healey describes his text as being “four two-act plays” which, I think, complicates the structure more than necessary.Realistically speaking, Generous is one play that operates on a number of scenes and subplots, some of which end up converging by the end of the show. This structure allows the audience to explore the different and complicated facets that make up an individual’s inner politics and how these factor into how that individual (or those individuals) approaches intimacy and relationships in their day to day life. Furthermore, it takes a look at how we take or cede responsibility (or do we?) for the choices we make, both as a singular person and as part of the collective, in politics, love, and business.
Coates has a good grip on this production, and the actual staging throughout the show is to be admired. Most notably, the opening scene (“PMO- 15 Years Ago”), the first few minutes of which are integral to grabbing an audience member’s (or a critic’s) attention, features the entire cast on stage in an explosive spectacle where the “PMO”, with a minority government on the verge of collapse, is far too concerned with fending off what appears to be an imminent vote of non-confidence to notice the profusely bleeding MP who dies in the middle of the office. With six people on this tightly cropped stage, all “competing” with their own stage business while also being a part of the ensemble, it is the director’s job to guide the focus of the spectator. Coates does this exceedingly well through ensuring that the blocking is clear enough so that each actor retains their prominence on stage no matter where they move (or if they change levels- standing to sitting). The sight-lines are so clear in this scene that it is easy to focus on the speaking character while still being aware of and responsive to the rest of the characters on stage.
The acting, on the whole, is very good in this show. It is really no surprise that great things will happen when you put Kristina Watt and Marion Day on stage in strong and relatively substantial roles. Watt’s transition from the profanity spewing, French-Canadian, PM Marc to the guarded widow and Supreme Court judge, Maria, is incredible. It is obvious that Watt attacks each role with gusto, as her presence on stage is usually palpable even when she’s not speaking. Similarly, Day as ambitious CEO-turned-politician, Julia, is a powerful energy in this cast, embodying a woman who is not at all afraid to go after her desires, even if she has to manipulate other people to achieve them.
The real stand out performance, however, is that of Drew Moore as the romantic law clerk, Alex. It should be stated that this character probably has the most text out of any of the other characters on stage, often being in the form of long, somewhat poetic, stream of consciousness type monologues. The key to effectively playing this character is, I think, nailing down the rhythms and intonations in the speech that allow the comedy to shine through while also colouring the text as though every time Alex speaks at length he is spouting the “poetry” (or poetic ideals) of a younger generation . Moore is strong and honest in his portrayal of this individual who starts out as fairly misguided and naïve, but grows a little more confident and sure of his feelings and decisions by the end of the play. Perhaps it is because I respond more directly to this character, who is supposed to be representative of my generation in this particular production, but Moore’s characterization emerges as the most fully realized on stage.
The biggest challenge this play faces is that its structure suggests or anticipates some sort of big finale that arguably doesn’t ever happen because of the lack of a clear climax or revelation. This might be because the audience is never presented with another scene that matches the frenzied and volatile energy of the very first scene; or it might be due to the way in which the scenes themselves are structured where it appears that all the small, but very significant, interconnections might lead to some final moment that brings together all of the characters and delivers the ultimate through-line of the piece. While the topics (i.e. love, politics, business etc.) that the characters explore through their dialogue are certainly interesting and relevant to 2015, at the end of the play it is unclear how to parse this information, or how this information really pertains to a larger context.
This production of Generous is thoroughly enjoyable to watch and is by no means a waste of creative and artistic talent. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, with a cast that understands comedic timing and being present on stage. However, its ability to inspire change (i.e. ideologically, emotionally, morally, or politically) or even debate leaves much to be desired.
Generous by Michael Healey
Directed by Eric Coates
Produced by the Great Canadian Theatre Company
Playing at the Irving Greenberg Centre September 17-27, 2015
Ticket information here.