by Lynn on September 18, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Streetcar Crowsnest, Produced by Crow’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Playing until Oct. 15, 2023.

Written by Michael Healey

Based on “Sideways: The City Google Couldn’t Buy” by Josh O’Kane

Directed by Chris Abraham

Set and props by Joshua Quinlan

Costumes by Ming Wong

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Video Design by Amelia Scott

Cast: Christopher Allen

Ben Carlson

Phillipa Domville

Peter Fernandes

Tara Nicodemo

Yanna McIntosh

Mike Shara

Stellar in every single way.

The Story. The Master Plan is a kind of political-thriller-David vs Goliath comedy drama involving slick operators from New York City backed by Google, vs the hard-working, by-the-book civil servants who try to keep up with the shenanigans.

Larry Page was one of the young creators of Google—a monster of a search engine. What Page dreamed of was to create the perfect self-sufficient city using high tech to create automated vehicles, efficient waste management, sidewalks that don’t need shoveling because they would be heated to melt the snow and an efficient rapid transit system—that’s not an oxymoron. 

A subsidiary of Google was formed called Sidewalk Labs to work on this project. Sidewalk Labs was headed by Dan Doctoroff, a slick operator from New York City.

In 2017, Waterfront Toronto, which was the Toronto organization responsible for the development of the waterfront, approached Sidewalk Labs to develop 12 acres of underdeveloped waterfront to fulfill the experiment.

Dan Doctoroff came to Toronto with his shined shoes, smart suit and $50 million to get things rolling. It was thought that the scheme for Toronto could then be marketed to other cities around the world and Sidewalk Labs would rake in the money.

But after three years of squabbling, misunderstanding on the part of Sidewalk Labs about how Waterfront Toronto works, miscommunication, mishandling of details, and secret backroom deals, it fell apart in 2020.

Globe and Mail reporter, Josh O’Kane wrote about the details of the scheme and the eventual debacle for two years. It resulted in his book “SIDEWAYS, THE CITY GOOGLE COULDN’T BUY.”

Playwright Michael Healey was commissioned by Chris Abraham, the Artistic Director of Crow’s Theatre to adapt the book into a play and the result is The Master Plan now at Crow’s Theatre.

The Production. The audience sits on four sides of the playing area designed by Joshua Quinlan, who also designed the props. When the audience enters there is an expansive model of wood configurations on a large table. One assumes this is the model of the ideal city. Eventually the model is removed and characters sit at the table with their laptops, cell phones and other necessities. The floor of the stage is composed of octagonal shaped pieces that fit together and can be easily removed if one of the pieces wears away.

Suspended above the playing area is a frame on which is projected information, facts, headlines, timelines, meetings, maps, the area of the waterfront at stake and other areas that Sidewalk Labs wanted. There is also a running tally of the many and various people on boards, in jobs and positions that are constantly shifting. One name is crossed out and another name takes its place. The use of tech is impressive.  At every turn you are bombarded with projected stuff. Kudos to Amelia Scott, the video designer for amassing such an array of videos.

Cast members in costume mingle with the audience as they file in, sometimes chatting them up in their seats. No one came near me so I don’t know if it’s the actor engaging with the audience or the character. It’s interesting watching them interact with the audience before the actual production ‘begins.’

The play is loaded with dates, meetings, facts, figures, reports, information and lots and lots of people being ignored while the folks in charge are running roughshod over everybody. I think director Chris Abraham does a brilliant job of realizing the dense, dizzying accumulation of facts, fiction and misinformation that went on over that time.  He has directed his stellar cast to deliver the information with conviction, urgency and a sense of absolute importance.

The cast that is always on the move, lobbing information at us as well. The acting company is superb. SUPERB!!!

Mike Shara plays Dan Doctoroff, the CEO of Sidewalk Labs. Doctoroff never met a back room he didn’t like for his secret deals and it never involved a slice of wedding cake for him to get what he wanted.  Mike Shara plays Dan Doctoroff in a tailored suit, shined shoes and the most understated polka dot socks. Doctoroff was a slick New Yorker. He could not understand the Canadians with their adherence to rules, public town halls for the public’s input and process. He just cut through stuff, ignored people who got in his way and bulldozed through. Mike Shara plays him with charm and a penchant for thinking quickly on his feet.

He is matched by Ben Carlson as Will Fleissig, of Waterfront Toronto who remembered exactly what was said and not. Fleissig’s control of information and the facts are always at odds with the seat of your pants thinking of Dan Doctoroff. Ben Carlson illuminates Fleissig’s frustration, exhaustion at the going’s on and disappointment with he gets bad news he doesn’t expect. Ben Carlson plays Will Fleissig as tempered, contained and anxious to be accommodating.

Just to show how anxious the Canadians are to be accommodating there is Philippa Domville playing Meg Davis (her father was Bill Davis—who knew a thing or two about politics). In her first scenes, all she does is smile and nod in agreement at what Dan Doctoroff is saying. It isn’t unctuous, it is hopeful that this would work, until it doesn’t and then she is fierce.

Peter Fernandes plays Tree (an actual tree, and he’s dandy) and is a narrator. He constantly circles the space offering information in a rapid-fire way that illustrates the urgency and importance. Tara Nicodemo plays Kristina Verner of Waterfront Toronto, who with Meg Davis, tries to keep track of the changing plans and shenanigans brought about by Dan Doctoroff. She is more forthright than the calm Meg Davis. Kristina Verner is more likely to explode in invective than Meg Davis, and that is a thing of beauty. Yanna McIntosh plays Helen Burstyn, the head of Waterfront Toronto and is commanding, devoid of small talk and all business. When she fires someone it’s swift and without sentiment. Yanna McIntosh also plays many and various characters with variation, distinction and nuance.   

I must mention Christopher Allen as Cam Malagaam—there’s a lovely trick about his name that is explained at the end. Cam Malagaam worked for Dan Doctoroff, only he was the genuine deal and not tainted. As Cam, Christopher Allen describes the beauty of the project and how it would be a great creation, helping build a livable city. His description is so quietly intense, so full of conviction it is absolutely moving. You are caught up short by the honesty and humanity of this character as played by this gifted young actor.

Playwright Michael Healey knows how to get to the heart of political issues because he’s done it before in such plays as Generous, Courageousand Proud. More than anything he finds the folly in situations and realizes the humour, perhaps gallows humour, when things go sideways, as this scheme did. Michael Healey knows how to realize the satire from politicians, smooth operators who try to bamboozle people, and even those trying to follow the rules and do a good job. But more than anything, Michael Healey realizes and celebrates the humanity of those who have dedicated their lives to work that is important. His plays are full of that humanity.  

Comment. Is The Master Plan overwhelming with information? If you let it. Don’t let it. Is Google overwhelming? Sure…one screen leads you to two more and then more. I think you get overwhelmed by it and can’t look away. In the case of The Master Plan it’s very tempting to feel overwhelmed by the information. Don’t. Take in the information as it pertains to the larger picture. Be aware of the various players and not so much the details. Be aware that there are people in the scenario who could remember what was said and what wasn’t. That’s one of the beauties of the play and the production. The speed of the info can suck you in—resist.

I loved the production because everyone involved gives the audience credit for having intelligence, common sense, humanity, a sense of humour and an appreciation of wonderful theatre.

Which The Master Planis.

Crow’s Theatre presents the world premier:

Plays until Oct. 15, 2023

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes. (1 intermission).

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