In Canada’s sesquicentennial year—more accurately celebrating confederation than the actual founding of the country—various “looks back” are hitting stages and concert halls from coast to coast to coast.
Having been premièred in Calgary then produced in Ottawa (both such appropriate locations for the play that brings the short-lived tenure of Prime Minister Joe Clark into the spotlight), the co-production with the Great Canadian Theatre Company is currently holding court in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Playwright Michael Healey has done a skillful job of employing just three actors (well four, if you count the large, electronic message board that silently introduces who is who but also gets some of the show’s best laughs with its wry commentaries), bringing to life Canada’s youngest PM on the eve (December 12, 1979) of his party’s defeat on a non-confidence motion related to the budget. (The minority government showing more bravura than smarts trying to garner enough votes to survive.) Curiously, the names of House Leader Walter Baker (who I knew not only as my MP, but also as a board member of the Nepean Symphony Orchestra) and Party Whip Bill Kempling didn’t figure into this telling of the perils of “governing as if I had a majority” follies.
The three actors (Sanjay Talwar playing Clark with a sense of earnest fun; Marion Day and Kelly Wong flying in and out of costumes, portraying the likes of Pierre Trudeau, John Crosbie, Maureen McTeer—imagine: sex in the seat of power!—and Flora MacDonald), all under the watchful, expert eye of director Eric Coates, kept the pace moving while offering various insights into their varied personas. However, with so many past portrayals of the storied lives—especially on Canadian television—the decision to largely leave out the tone, mannerisms and style in these characterizations gave the production more of a historical rather than—at times—hysterical recounting of hubris versus pragmatism. (Nonetheless, that fit the screen contributions to a T.)
The crowd had a grand time with some nearby Americans opining that this was nothing like the U.S. Truer words were never spoken. JWR