Theatre New Brunswick kicked off their 2019 fall season by providing a little levity to the tense atmosphere of Canada’s current election season.
Their opening production of 1979, brought to life by playwright Michael Healey, is a satirical yet informative look at the country’s political landscape back in 1979 of the complicated issues that were raised and how they parallel ones present today.
The play takes place in the Prime Minister’s office on Parliament Hill. The subject matter is dense so a projector screen in the background gives context and breaks the fourth wall, while providing occasional comic relief.
The play tells the story of Canada’s prime minister at the time, Joe Clark, who is played by STU alumni and Woodstock, NB native Jeff Dingle. Clark saw a short one-year tenure as Prime Minister due to a lost vote on the budget he proposed for his minority government.
Dingle embodied the buttoned-down Conservative well as as the character tried to remain true to his platform, despite the onslaught of peer pressure he faced from various political figures to strong-arm and prolong his tenure by delaying the vote on his budget.
Dingle’s character is the only true-to-life representation of a politician, while the carousel of characters that parade into his office throughout the production are much more cartoonish.
These characters are brought to life by Maritime actors Kevin Curran and Sarah O’Brecht, both of whom channel their inner Eddie Murphy by playing multiple boisterous characters.
Curran shines most in his role as Clark’s Finance Minister John Crosbie, who delivers one profane tirade after another in his time on stage, and as Pierre Trudeau, a role Curran nails by animating Trudeau’s already expressive personality, most notably through his impressive monologue on the thankless work required to obtain power.
O’Brecht steals the show however, playing several of the productions most memorable characters from her flirty performance as Clark’s wife Maureen McTeer, her obnoxious portrayal of Brian Mulroney and her final role as Stephen Harper, who she portrays during his days as both a young assistant on Parliament Hill and as prime minister.
O’Brecht’s interaction with Clark as Harper delivers the highlight of the show that is simultaneously a sobering truth bomb. Examining the concept of leadership by dominance, the scene encapsulates the motif of the play with its damning statement that politicians should stop trying to please everyone after obtaining office and start enacting policies even if they are only beneficial to certain parts of the country and detrimental to others.
This strategy was dismissed by Clark, leading him to being ousted as Prime Minister while Harper used it to win three consecutive terms.
Theatre New Brunswick’s rendition of 1979 provides some much-needed nervous laughter for Canadians during a stressful election season. It humours the stereotypes of what the average citizen envisions of a politician behind closed doors while staying grounded in the reality that its most hysterical moments do not stray that far from the truth.
The production runs at the Open Space Theatre in Fredericton until Oct. 26 and then goes on tour from Oct. 29 to Nov. 3.