Is this a trend?
At the Segal last week, Marc Hall attended the opening night of Prom Queen: The Musical, which dramatized his defiance of a Catholic school ban on partying with his same-sex partner.
A week later at the Centaur, the family of playwright Annabel Soutar was in the audience for the part-environmental docudrama, part comedy road trip The Watershed, her daughters giggling delightedly as what-they-did-on-their-holidays unfolded on the stage.
What raises both plays above the status of theatrical selfies is that they wrestle with momentous political issues, both of which, incidentally, have just been thrown for a loop by developments across the border.
In The Watershed, Soutar and her Montreal-based documentary-theatre company Porte Parole (in a co-production with Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre) investigate the future of Canada’s fresh water supply — in particular its imperilment by the drip-drip of neglect by the Harper government.
Soutar’s real-life actor husband, Alex Ivanovici, was to have played himself until a broken ankle put him out of action. He’s been replaced by Daniel Brochu, who brings an enjoyable mix of vulnerability, short-fuse irritability and physical comedy.
Humour, in fact, plays a crucial role in diluting the potentially hard-to-swallow muesli of facts and figures. Hysterical weather reports, ironically from climate change-denying network Fox News, are raucously delivered by Tanja Jacobs, who also gets lots of comic mileage out of playing the Soutar girls’ older friend, Hazel.
Amusingly recognizable cameos drift in and out, most notably Bruce Dinsmore’s impeccably bland Stephen Harper.
The second half shifts gear into often madcap domestic comedy as the Soutar family and their (invisible) dog pile into a rented Winnebago for an epic journey across Canada so Soutar can see for herself the Alberta oilsands and their environmental impact.
Denyse Karn’s elaborately inventive, often witty projection design, combined with Julie Fox’s shape-shifting set (Plateau apartment, Winnebago interior, sushi bar …) also add spectacular and colourful variety.
The eight-strong cast undergo split-second transformations as they portray scores of characters. In one delightful episode, Ngozi Paul switches suddenly from a pre-teen girl enjoying a bath to a bearded Chris Abraham, the director of the show, also taking a bath but agonizing over such grown-up problems as the impact of The Watershed’s controversy on his company’s funding.
Such moments of introspection are typical of a show that, on the one hand, takes an objective look at hot-button political issues, and on the other wrestles with its own creative process.
It even has its own criticism built into it. There’s a climactic debate between Soutar and her fiscally conservative father, Ian. The scene is gripping, beautifully acted and made doubly poignant by the fact Ian is played by beloved veteran Eric Peterson, and by the fact the real Ian Soutar died this year. But it also starts to feel like it’s going all over the map. At which point, Peterson’s character remarks: “We’re all over the map here.”
It’s difficult not to argue with that as an overall assessment, while acknowledging that it’s an enjoyable, often thoughtfully stimulating trip.
AT A GLANCE: The Watershed plays to Dec. 4 at Centaur Theatre, 453 St-François-Xavier St. Tickets: $51 (Thursday, Friday, Saturday evenings), $45 (Tuesday, Wednesday evenings), $39 (matinee), seniors: $43.50 (evening), $38 (matinee), under 30: $36.50, students: $28. Call 514-288-3161 or visit centaurtheatre.com