by Lynn on February 18, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r Catherine Fitch, Marcel Stewart l-r Catherine Fitch, Marcel Stewart

At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Paul Dunn
Directed by Matthew Gorman
Set and costumes by Jenna McCutchen
Lighting by Raha Javanfar
Sound by Andy Trithardt
Cast: Julia Course
Catherine Fitch
Marcel Stewart
Andy Trithardt

Sexual politics in academia is a fascinating subject worth exploring. Dalton and Company makes a stab at it but needs another serious re-write to solve all the troubling questions.

The Story. Daniel Dalton is a celebrated professor in the English department of a large university. He has just written his memoirs. Karen is his adoring, devoted secretary of 25 years. Linda is Daniel’s graduate student and both fears and is desperate for his attention and approval. Randy is Daniel’s other graduate student who respects him, but also wants Linda to give him a bit of attention. Charlie is a mysterious young man who applies (late) for a lowly office position in that office. His work experience is minimal. His references are non-existent. He seems to be taking some undergraduate writing courses (trade writing), but even that’s vague. Karen hires him anyway.

Slowly but uncomfortably surely Charlie’s influence over Daniel causes trouble in the office. It’s hinted that Charlie’s help with Daniel might be sexual. Daniel is gay and Charlie seems an opportunist. This wrecks havoc in the office until something has to give.

The Production. We are in an office with three desks: one each for Karen, Linda and Randy. Karen’s desk has a computer on it. The others have books etc. perhaps a plant. Daniel’s office is in the corner behind a usually closed door.

The production opens with Karen finishing the galley proofs for Daniel’s memoir and swooning with appreciation. As Karen, Catherine Fitch is that perfect, loyal secretary. She hugs the manuscript close to her heart as she hurries into Daniel’s office to tell him how much she loves the book.

Soon after, when Karen meets Charlie, she is efficient if not officious and irritated that he is applying late. She sniffs at his skimpy resume. It says he gets along well with people but there is no reference. He says, smiling, that he’s the reference. She emphasises that the job is lowly office work. Karen hires him anyway because the other applicants were so poor. My eyebrows are knitting.

As Charlie, Marcel Stewart is energetic, always smiling and accommodating. When it becomes obvious that he is in Daniel’s preferred sphere (they often work at Daniel’s home and Daniel takes Charlie to fancy restaurants) Marcel Stewart is nonchalant and off handed at how close he and Daniel work. The other grad students are concerned. As Linda, Julia Course is anxious, fraught and almost on the edge of losing it. As Randy, Andy Trithardt is the one who sees what Charlie is doing and knows how he’s doing it. Trithardt has an easy, watchful manner that is compelling because he plays the angles so well.

In Matthew Gorman’s efficiently directed production the closed door to Daniel’s office is illuminated when Daniel’s ‘presence’ is noted. It’s interesting to see how the passing of power shifts in this carefully directed production.

Comment. Writer Paul Dunn says in his program note: “I wanted to explore the effects of sexual favouritism on a work environment that purports to be a meritocracy. People using their positions of power to satisfy their personal needs is nothing new. What I find fascinating is the justifications that are made—both by the person in power and by his/her beneficiary.”

We learn about a character by what they say, what they do and what people say about them. It’s an interesting decision that writer Paul Dunn has made not to introduce Daniel. So we only know about him by what others say about him and how they respond to decisions he’s made. This makes knowing the “justifications that are made—both by the person in power and by his/her beneficiary” a bit hazy.

I have several questions/concerns that are not answered by the play and thus weakens it.

We can assume that Daniel wants and gets sexual favours from Charlie in exchange for something. That something seems questionable after a superficial point. Charlie doesn’t seem good enough a writer to be working on a book. So is that job the only thing he wants? This is too obvious a weakness and makes the plays seem superficial. Paul Dunn is too good a write in his other plays to leave this question unexplored.

Daniel invites Charlie to accompany him on a speaking trip to Italy. Charlie beat out two very qualified people for the job. His inadequacies are obvious to the three people in the office but not Daniel, until first Linda complains and gets ‘fired’ as Daniel’s grad student, and finally Karen lays down the law to Daniel.

Just on a technical point, referencing my former life as an administrator in a university department, grad students don’t get fired for what Linda did. And she could protest the firing, which universities hate.

Even after everyone is aware that the problem in the office is Charlie, no one seems to think it wise to check up on him; question his previous employers; find references; do something to check up on this guy. This lapse weakens the play.

Also, no one checks to see if he is in fact registered for undergraduate writing courses? He says he is taking a trade writing course and passed it. Just passed it, I wonder? No one else wonders. That weakens the play.

What exactly is the job that Charlie is doing in that office? Randy says that since Charlie joined the office, he (Randy) has been burdened with work. He’s marking undergraduate papers. As a grad student that’s what he does for his supervisor. He sometimes might even have to write a speech. Randy tells Daniel he has no time to write the speech and says that Charlie should, knowing Charlie hasn’t got the ability. What extra work after that has been dumped on Randy? The play doesn’t say. I think it should.

Linda carefully checked the index for Daniel’s book to see that it was correct. Karen read the book carefully. Yet neither caught a glaring omission and Charlie does—to stick it to one of them. It weakens the play that neither character is aware of the omission.

Paul Dunn wrote the first draft of Dalton and Company in 2008. I think it needs another serious re-write and the question of sexual favours for power should be more deeply explored.

Cart/Horse Theatre presents:

Opened: Feb. 12, 2016.
Closes: Feb. 28, 2016.
Cast: 4; 2 men, 2 women
Running Time: 90 minutes.

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