Plan B by Michael Healey
Directed by Bill Devine
May 14-29, 2010
Vancouver, BC: I seem to remember that consistently in public opinion polls on prestige or trustworthiness of various occupations, regardless of poll location, politicians score near the bottom. So it was not surprising that a collective chuckle of acknowledgement rippled through the audience at the idea that everyone feels that they are being "f-cked" over by government.
Canadian playwright Healey sets his political farce in a time when Quebec has voted 53% to separate from the rest of Canada. Anglophone federal politicians, Colin (Howard Siegel) and Michael (Adam Henderson), meet with Francophones, Quebec Premier, Mathieu (Jacques Lalonde) and Intergovernmental Affairs minister, Lise Frechette (France Perras) in a hotel in Hull, ostensibly to hammer out the terms on which Quebec's separation will occur.
All four are aware that their work is window dressing for the public while the real decisions have been and are being made in back-room deals. With two weeks of "negotiations" and planned "leaks" to get through, everyone gets more than a little stir-crazy. Inevitably, in a too-obvious metaphor, Anglophone Michael tries to seduce Francophone Lise, who teases and tantalizes while withholding her acquiesence.
Much of the dialogue is in French, with translations projected onto a screen. Reflecting a common reality even in today's Canada, Mathieu and Lise spoke fluent English with only the slightest of accents. Michael's French was pedantically and carefully "correct", just like we hear from the politicians and other dignitaries doing their obligatory few French sentences in their public addresses. Coincidentally the next night I was at a formal dinner and almost giggled aloud when I heard the various speakers sound just like Michael when they did the bilingual bit. Beautiful!
It was hard to know in the play how much of the rapid-fire speech of the two Francophones either Michael or Colin were supposed to actually understand. But somehow like reality TV can occasionally strike home, it reminded me of a painful long-ago stay with a French family in Quebec City where, despite 5 full years of high-school French, I could barely understand a word they spoke, and my entire French vocabulary vanished the second I opened my mouth.
All four actors were quite outstanding and sadly, their characters and Healey's imagined situation were all believable. I really enjoyed Henderson's Minister with ADD and no moral compass. Siegel was excellent as the frustrated senator who has spent decades in politics dealing with Quebec.
Lalonde was great as the somewhat bemused Premier and Perras, bored with evenings alone in her hotel room, advanced and retreated like a lioness who couldn't decide whether to tame or be tamed.
I liked Lynda and Gary Chu's simple set design- a boardroom and a hotel bedroom distinctly demarcated despite the small playing space. And Dorothy Dittrich's sound design was great with music ranging from the Tragically Hip to cool cheek-to-cheek dance music.
As one of the ultra-cynical public who believes that "none of the above" should be the first choice in most elections, I found the first act deliciously wicked and funny.
Unfortunately, for me the second act dragged a lot - not due to the direction or the pacing of the actors - but the whole situation just got a bit tedious. The questions Healey raises about relationships and communication, language and multiculturalism, surface reality and what is buried behind the scene, are interesting. But like I suspect much of the Canadian public, the never-ending issue of Quebec separation is not something that keeps me awake at night and it all just went on a little too long.
Still it is an excellent production, with great acting and enough laughs to keep you going.
Plan B plays at Presentation House Theatre on the North Shore until May 29. Tickets are available at the door or by calling the Box Office at 604-990-3474 or on-line .