Review: POST-DEMOCRACY

by Lynn on November 19, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont. until December 4, 2022.

www.tarragontheatre.com

Written by Hannah Moscovitch

Directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu

Set and costumes by Teresa Przybylski

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Sound by John Gzowski

Movement and choreography by Lina Jiménez

Cast: Rachel Cairns

Chantelle Han

Jesse LaVercombe

Diego Matamoros

A bristling examination of the murky world of big business when money seduces everybody and ethics and integrity are kicked to the curb, written by Hanna Moscovitch whose laser vison doesn’t miss a thing.

The Story. Bill is the CEO of a large car company. Lee is his COO. Justine is Bill’s adopted daughter and the company’s CFO, is also there.  Shannon, a public relations person with the company. Lee is her boss and he’s attracted to her, although Bill has warned Lee about not giving into his urges with Shannon. They are in a poor South American city to sign a deal and buy a manufacturing company named Systemus. There is trouble at home. Bill keeps checking his cell-phone for information. It seems a Brand Manager has been sexually harassing or compromising his female assistants and the issue must be contained even though the press seems to know about it.

At the same time Bill learns that although Lee just arrived the evening before, he had sex with a young woman who was sent to his room and who probably was underage. When this information is revealed, Lee doesn’t see any problem as it is a third world problem and the young woman was just a whore. What Lee wants more than anything is that the deal to buy Systemus, goes through. He has been working on this for a long time, and he wants it done.

Justine appears to have a moral compass. She does extensive charity work in Africa. She is aware of the toxic company culture and is intent on stopping it. She is aware of Lee’s lack of ethics. She also notes that Lee is Bill’s 5th cousin. She wants her father Bill to fire Lee. Bill won’t do it for reasons that are eventually revealed. Justine is appeased in a way that is all too familiar in such cases. Everybody knows everybody’s secrets and uses them for their own advantage later.

For Hannah Moscovitch to name the company they want to buy, Systemus, is Moscovitch winking at how close it is to the word “systemic’ which is how pervasive the rot is in Bill’s company and the company he wants to buy.  

The Production. Initially, the audience is looking at a dark stage with a large black covering over the stage and anything underneath the covering. When the lights go dark (accompanied by a growing noisy sound) it goes up on the rest of Teresa Przybylski’s startling, stark set. The walls are white and one wall seems to be leaning in slightly, pressing in unevenly. There is a bright red couch with an irregular shape to suggest it’s ultra-modern; there is a stocked drinks caddy to one side of the couch; and a dark, forbidding painting taking up the whole wall at the back. Sliding doors automatically open and close when a person enters or leaves this room. It’s the communal gathering room for that floor, in this spiffy hotel.

Louise Guinand’s lighting is blindingly bright—you could easily do open-heart surgery in that room’s light. It is so glaring one could not hide anything in that room under that light, even a person’s secrets. Which is the point.

Teresa Przybylski’s costume design is interesting and odd.  Bill (Diego Matamoros) wears casual but seemingly expensive clothes: a jacket, shirt, pants and casual shoes. This “look” does establish him as the head of a successful company. Lee (Jesse LaVercombe) wears a non-descript casual shirt and chinos. I thought that odd. Lee plays the power game at all times. He would look the part of a leading honcho of a company but really doesn’t here. He could be anybody with a drink in his hand. Justine (Chantelle Han) is dressed in a smart, form-fitting dress and heels. She looks the part of a CFO who needs to prove her point and make what she says matter, even though she is the boss’s daughter.  Shannon (Rachel Cairns) wears a buttoned-up jacket and skirt that is downright frumpy. She wears what seems like a silk shirt underneath, but that buttoned up ‘suit’ plays more on insecurity than establishing a sense of cool confidence in that high-powered job. There is a ‘look’ to a public relations person of a successful corporation, and this look isn’t it.  As I said, “odd.”

Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu stages the first scene with Bill standing facing the audience, feet separated, firm stance. He spends most of his time peering into his cell-phone checking e-mails and texts or replying to them, while Lee faces him, drink in hand (it’s 6 am and that drink is not tea), tries to get his attention. As Bill, Diego Matamoros is quietly distracted by the cell phone and gives Lee off-handed attention. Bill is also cool.

Lee, played with barely concealed impatience by Jesse LaVercombe, waits, as does the audience to learn what is going on.  Lee coughs to get Bill’s attention. Bill keeps him waiting.  Bill called the meeting for 6:00 am and Lee has had a bad night. He arrived at this South American city the night before.  While Bill is his boss, Lee conveys an edgy pushiness I found interesting. Lee has a great sense of himself as a player, confident, one who ‘never blinks’ when faced with a challenge, like waiting for his boss to tell him why he called the meeting at 6:00 am and is ignoring him. It’s a powerful performance by Jesse LaVercombe. He plays Lee as a person who takes no prisoners and has no conscience about it, even when it’s his boss.  

As Bill, Diego Matamoros also has a certain power. He has the power to keep his COO waiting and slowly let him know that he can’t let his sexual urges get the better of him, and sleep with Shannon. Lee has been warned about this. Bill also knows that Lee slept with a young woman when he arrived. As Bill, Diego Matamoros is almost fatherly about this warning, rather than ruthless.  It’s fascinating watching these two characters played by these two actors, do the dance of power and one-upmanship.

The dynamic changes when Justine arrives. As played by Chantelle Han, she is forceful, confident and knows she must look the power part, so she is ‘power-dressed’ in her dress and shoes. There is nothing casual about her at this 6:00 am meeting.

Lee knows where he stands in the hierarchy of this company and so he confidently wrangles with Justine, publicly insulting to her in front of Bill and he seems to let him. It’s interesting to see how that balance of power delicately shifts from character to character. Justine is not above telling secrets in public to make her points and gain an edge, but it’s Lee who seems to be winning points.

Rounding out the cast is Rachel Cairns as Shannon.  Initially Rachel Cairns plays Shannon as meek and insecure, whose shoulders are hunched in the company of these players. She is aware of the Brand Manager and his penchant for sexual harassment but doesn’t seem committed to supporting those women who have been harassed. She seems more interested in having them remain silent. Perhaps her involvement with Lee might be a reason and her playing the corporate game. The staging of Lee and Shannon’s drunken sex-scenes seemed more awkward than passionate.

Hannah Moscovitch’s characters in Post-Democracy speak in blunt language. Lee’s dialogue is a string of monosyllabic words that jolt out. These are people who don’t converse in paragraphs because their communication is generally from a cell-phone screen. The dialogue is reminiscent of David Mamet, but with Mamet his characters are inarticulate. With Moscovitch her characters are in a hurry for the deal and power and don’t have time for chit-chat. The timing is everything with this ‘rat-a-tat’ dialogue and too often I felt the timing was off and the pace lagged.  

Comment. Hannah Moscovitch has written a devastating play in which she puts her laser perception and focus on the toxic culture in big business; where money is more important than morality; conscience, integrity and ethics are laughed at in favour of making a deal at all cost. Moscovitch so immerses you in this world you will be thinking about it long after you see it, and you should see it.

Tarragon Theatre presents:

Plays until: Dec. 4, 2022.

Running Time: 1 hour, (no intermission)

www.tarragontheatre.com

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