The Toronto Theatre Review: Tarragon Theatre’s Post-Democracy
Playwright Hannah Moscovitch (The Russian Play) knows exactly what will get under our skin, and she delivers it swiftly in Tarragon Theatre’s complicated 60-minute play, Post-Democracy. Sounds gurgle up from below as the intense and disturbing music unwraps the scene before us. It’s a surprise, this new landscape, but as we watch these two men, one younger and one older, collide, the energy within shifts uncomfortably. Both men are obviously privileged and quite used to the fine liquor they indulge in. The tension is almost audible as they find reason to speak, doing battle against an enemy they don’t even understand or see. It’s a stifling interaction, drawing us in more and more as the air expands with details of the late night door knock is explored and judged. The young man is obviously a piece of work; arrogant, powerful, and oblivious, but oddly awkward in front of this older man who carries power so easily on his weighted shoulders. We aren’t quite sure where we are, or what that piece of art on the back wall represents, but it’s increasingly clear we aren’t here to like these people.
As directed with a free and almost too wild hand by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu (Obsidian/CanStage/NecAngel’s Is God Is), the art of the play lies behind the painted framework, where women wander in the woods trying to rise above, avoid, or take down the privilege of everything that young man represents. He’s obviously the villain here, clear and present danger to any woman who works under him. He is the powerful executive named Lee, performed well by the somewhat miscast Jesse LaVercombe (Factory’s Beautiful Man), who quickly learns, if the deal he is working on goes through, his position of power will only increase. This we hear directly from the conflicted CEO named Bill, cautiously portrayed by Diego Matamoros (Tarragon’s Farther West) who while sitting exhausted on that modern red couch sees a changing future. He’s not exactly embracing the new reality as he steadfastly refuses to see it roll out in a way that won’t benefit him in the long run.
LaVercombe’s Lee has a hard time understanding anything that gets in the way of his stock rising, even though the actor doesn’t seem so comfortable in this man’s slick power stance. He has a complicated relationship with women, that rings true, especially with the overwhelmed executive assistant, Shannon, distinctly portrayed wisely by Rachel Cairns (Howland’s The Wolves). Their union is a drunken sorted restructuring that is both comical yet complicated. But for a man to find himself in this particularly privileged room, I expected a more cold confidence radiating from within a darkened soul. Maybe someone more tightly controlled and slick. But that’s not our Lee. He stands there, shifting uncomfortably in front of his boss, saying all the right wrong things about the “woke sandbox”, leading us down a familiar path, but not quite embodying what is expected. Maybe that’s the point. To mess with us.
When a sexual harassment story breaks back home, loud and disturbing, this Post-Democracy play sudden shifts direction, mainly because of the fourth player in this piece, the daughter of CEO Bill arriving strong and privileged proud. Justine, dynamically portrayed almost too intensely by Chantelle Han (Vertigo’s Strangers on a Train) is a force to be reckoned with, walking in through the woods to arrive in this room ready to do battle. Glued to her phone, assessing the damage, it’s obvious she holds a position of power within her daddy’s company, but not one as high as Lee, a man it immediately becomes clear she hates with a passion almost too obviously. She seems as confident as anyone in that room, maybe more so, but the whiplash of her words tilt the play on its head, making us wonder, is there anyone in that room to root for?
That white spacious room, created by set and costume design Teresa Przybylski (Tarragon’s Scorched), with determined lighting by Louise Guinand (Tarragon’s Kingfisher Days) and a solid sound design by John Gzowski (Stratford’s The Miser), has layers of knowledge hidden and revealed within, forward and back. The tension between these four illicit flares of complexity outward, never letting us off with stereotypes that are stitched in black and white. But the grey isn’t easy to digest either with awkward leaps of structural faith and understanding slapping down ideas of who is on the right side. And who we want to embrace. Cairns’s Shannon comes the closest, but the reveals from both Justine, which is so harsh it was hard to witness, and Lee, which was hard to take in and understand, unsettle this already unsettled ship.
The ending registers as the closest this piece comes to obviousness, but I couldn’t help by wonder what outcome we truly wanted to make us feel justified for the injustice presented. And not in an obvious manner, but the deeper ideal. The point of this play remains somewhat as misty as the woods, even when given this view into the 1% world we know so little of. Deals and contracts are formalized, and payoffs are agreed upon. But if there is no one to root for, is anyone ever going to be safe in those Post-Democracy woods.