BY MICHAEL HEALEY
"Canada is a country built against any common geographic, historic or cultural sense."
CHRISTOPHER HUNT AS FLORA MACDONALD (ABOVE)
AND PIERRE TRUDEAU (BELOW)
AND PIERRE TRUDEAU (BELOW)
The amazingly executed performance doubling of iconic Canadian political figures in the current production of 1979 acts as a kind of symbolic theatrical gesture toward the fact that the twentieth century saw decades of Liberal governments, with infrequent Conservative debacles taking hold, attempting to control a mass of land far too complex and far too fragmented for any single political body to handle. But Joe Clark tried for a very short time beginning in 1979. He may be remembered as a hapless bright eyed do gooder and/or a man with brave socially insightful policies that a majority would refuse to allow themselves the time and patience to endure. Clark's 'short term pain for long term gain' agenda was never given a chance to create a more equitable economic environment. But now, in 2019, that economic impatience seems even more entrenched as the rich get richer and the poor get... Oh dear, cliches abound, and there are plenty of very effective one liners, mannerisms, and dual drag roles that could have easily lapsed into cliche in this production. But the three person cast brings the men and women who surrounded Clakre during his short lived reign into sharp relief and reveals the complex, frequently comic configuration of events and characters that have contributed to the creation of a national political landscape that continues to confound through a predictable and infuriating relay race between liberal and conservative.
Michael Healey's hilarious, research ridden, and highly detailed script reminds audiences of how the surface personality of a sharp witted politician, however manipulative and/or corrupt, can win a political battle when pitted against the sincere, corduroy clothed, mild mannered dedication of a man like Joe Clark in 1979.
Christopher Hunt's Pierre Trudeau is a superbly crafted caricature that blends a kind of campiness that conjures a cross between the father of our current Prime Minister and Oscar Wilde, with hints of Quentin Crisp, Dame Edna, and Piers Morgan. At one point Hunt appears in a female role that has just been played by a female perfumer, with the woman (Jamie Konchak) playing a man. The doubling is layered and complex and acts as the perfect counterpart to a layered, complex, and hilariously infuriating political landscape.
Jamie Konchak matches Hunt's skill as she plays men and women with a convincing comic panache, and devours Clark in a mythified, and highly effective speculative moment between Clark and a fledgling Stephen Harper. The power of the performance is both thrilling and frightening as we witness the struggle between two men striving for extremely different things in a country torn apart by the sheer magnitude of all these provinces and all these issues struggling for a piece of this frozen tract.
Philip Riccio's convincing and consistent portrayal of Joe Clark is simultaneously stalwart and bumbling as he faces immense obstacles and powerful opponents. Riccio's physical timing reaches its peak in a final scene when he must partially disrobe, all the time silent as he faces the final demise of his brief presence on Parliament Hill. Riccio creates a wonderful sense of the serious and the silly as he skilfully navigates a single room setting that traps his character in a cage of slim power and inevitable downfall.
1979 has to be, and is, very funny because it would be much too terrifying to have to witness this reflective treatise on all that has happened since 1979 were it not sprinkled heavily with the dark comic terror of late twentieth and early twenty first century politics. Director Miles Potter has moved his characters through a wordy, single setting narrative with sharp, powerful blocking. A single door lends a farcical tone to the dramatic proceedings as characters enter and exit with the bravado of scuttling pawn-like creatures in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. Ultimately the potentially brilliant mouse flees and the crafty cat comes front and centre. But of course, Clark's tenure as Prime Minister did not stop him from continuing on for decades as a successful survivor of - as Pierre Trudeau once said - a country "whose main exports are hockey players and cold fronts [and whose] main imports are baseball players and acid rain."
JAMIE KONCHAK AS MAUREEN MCTEER, PHILIP RICCIO AS JOE CLARK
JAMIE KONCHAK AS STEPHEN HARPER, PHILIP RICCIO AS JOE CLARK
RUNNING AT CANADIAN STAGE (BERKELEY STREET)
UNTIL JANUARY 27TH