Wednesday, December 5, 2018



The current run of Jason Sherman’s Marshall McLuhan late life bio-play, after 15 years of a long stall due in part to the McLuhan estate’s* displeasure regarding Sherman’s take on the communications icons life and work, is a timely (perhaps even more timely than 2003) meditation on all that has happened to the world, social media, and the planet in a decade and a half. 


With the aid of a stellar cast, R.H. Thomson’s intense and impeccable rendering of a man at odds with language due to serious health challenges is at times painful - even frustrating - to observe as the timeline flips back and forth between his early career and his final days. And yet the comedy that the playwright manages  to insert into the script, the ways in which a trio of ‘good old boys' play with pseudo playboy bunnies, puns, and jokes, give the piece a fast paced rhythm and style that clips along toward an inevitable ending. 
All of the players deliver nuanced, break neck performances, with Sarah Orenstein and Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster inhabiting standout multiple roles as the women who enter the ‘boys club’ and create formidable counterparts who simultaneously challenge and assimilate among the powers that be. Peter Hutt and Patrick McManus, also in multiple roles, round out the ensemble with distinct takes on the men surrounding the whirlwind of ideas McLuhan stood at the centre of - inserting a humorous  at times standup presence, to a serious drama about popular wisdom, wiles, and wilfulness.

The central position McLuhan continues to hold within communications history is, in a brief scene, lightly challenged by the idea that many minds contributed, while McLuhan’s personality, and his way with written words, coupled with the people who moved and marketed him toward celebrity status, were as integral to the McLuhan phenomenon as the man himself.
Watching a play addressing the monumental impact McLuhan and his cohorts - colleagues - prophets (what have you) have had on public/popular consciousness drives home many points about where current ‘civilization’ is headed. 

If, in fact, the medium is the message, then the Tarragon production, with a moveable set, almost vaudevillian-like appearances behind faux television sets, and tremendous lighting and video design (Rebecca Picherack, lighting - Carla Richie, video designer) brings forward the message in a fully integrated, epic way. The creative team also reveals the effects - onstage - of an industrialized, tech-frenzied century whose still developing/snowballing technologies remain with us as rampant growth both threatens and enhances ‘modern’ life. As the imprint grows the environmental implications increase.
It may be difficult to take a positive message from the dramaturgical proceedings, but overall, the play is a haunting, hilarious, lightly hopeful message about popular fame, the social media, mortality, and marketing in an age and a city where I look out my window, a short stroll from Dundas Square, and all I can see, in Toronto's mini Times Square, are colossal, entertaining and informational examples of McLuhan’s haunting prophesy. A prophesy that, given the milieu he worked within for most of his life (University of Toronto - 1950 to late seventies), may not have been a very prophetic horizon after all - rather, a close look at what he was, by degree, already surrounded and consumed by in a growing urban ‘village’ existing alongside similar global enterprise.



written by Jason Sherman
directed by Richard Rose
assistant director Taryn Jorgenson
costume designer Charlotte Dean
set & props designer Camellia Koo
video designer Carla Ritchie
sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne
lighting designer Rebecca Picherack
stage manager Kate Sandeson
apprentice stage manager Jaimee Hall

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