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Review: POST-DEMOCRACY at Tarragon Theatre

Review: POST-DEMOCRACY at Tarragon Theatre

Hannah Moscovitch's play is a tightly-written satire that could expand its take on issues of the 1%

We have a fascination with the world of the 1%, inaccessible to most. For some, it's born of admiration and no small amount of jealousy; for others, it comes from a longing for a return to bloody revolution. The über-rich are all over our media, filling our websites, magazines, and TV screens. Hannah Moscovitch's POST-DEMOCRACY, a new, tight one-hour drama at Tarragon Theatre that will likely face comparisons by many viewers to shows such as Succession, bares the seedy, nepotistic underbelly of the glistening penthouse. Effectively directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, the bleak hour is gleefully snappy and biting in its criticism of a class invulnerable to consequence. However, it bites off a little more than it can chew in addressing the vast issues implied by its portentous title.

Bill (Diego Matamoros), the CEO of an unnamed corporation, is in a similarly-unnamed South American country, handling the purchase of a company called Systemis that will replace their Chinese manufacturing arm. At the same time, he's dealing with the fallout from a sexual harassment scandal back home that seems to get worse and worse, a brand manager accused of improper conduct with executive assistants.

Actually, rather, he doesn't seem to be dealing with much of anything at all; distant and distracted, he leaves most of the grunt work to COO Lee (Jesse LaVercombe), a young man who oozes Ivy League Finance Bro from every pore, and is no stranger to corporate trips filled with sponsored illicit sexual activity. However, a line may have been crossed when Lee's ill-considered dalliance with a suspiciously young prostitute complicates everything, from his icy relationship with Justine (Chantelle Han), company CFO and Bill's adopted daughter, to his hopes for an also ill-advised sexual relationship with one-woman PR department Shannon (Rachel Cairns), a long-time friend of Justine's.

Moscovitch's script is at its best when skewering the venality and out-of-touch nature of the upper-upper-class, showing frustrating moments of the panicked humanity underneath when you might for a second believe they'll understand their destructive behaviour or change their ways before twisting the knife of the status quo. There's the man who puts the family fortune ahead of everything else, maddening in his inaction; there's the perpetrator of sexual violence; there's the daughter who thinks that charity work absolves her of the damage she causes and her responsibility to treat others with basic respect.

The characters constantly spout dialogue that reveals their views on the disposability of other human beings: hotel staff "don't matter," Justine supports "those people," and "nobody cares about China." At the same time, they appear desperate for approval, and momentarily reach out to each other to briefly experience love or connection before the yelling and scheming and drinking begin again.

The design of the set, by Teresa Przybylski, is impressive. In a split second, we're whisked from darkness into harsh light, wrinkled fabric with the look of a tarp or of garbage bags giving way to a large white hotel common room that gives the impression of a human-sized diorama owned by American Psycho's Patrick Bateman. Symbolically, it puts one in the mind of two worlds, the one of privilege and the one affected by the garbage it produces. There's a large, back-wall-filling abstract painting that could be a representation of a factory or of the world outside; sometimes, the light shines through it to show an eerie, moody forest of tree trunks behind, through which Justine or Shannon wanders.

POST-DEMOCRACY benefits from its excellent cast. Matamoros is world-weary and withdrawn, making his decisions with hollow resignation. The script paints him as so passive initially that it's hard to understand his iron-grip survival in this cutthroat world, but a quick flash of commanding passion later on gives us a clue of what he's willing to do, and I found myself wishing the script had engaged with this contrast more.

LaVercombe is oily and hedonistic, except when he looks like a scared little kid; it actually seems plausible that he's so inured by his life's former lack of repercussions that he doesn't fully understand the magnitude of his harm. As the underling who cleans up the messes, at the edge of their world but never fully in it, Cairns exudes a nervous twitchiness under her "one of the boys but in a tight skirt" demeanour, as well as a chilling internal shutdown when the horrors get too real.

Han as Justine gives us a particularly fascinating character, as she bluntly airs her disgust with the sexual crimes, which tie into the charity she runs. However, her lavish lifestyle and company buy-in contrast her stated beliefs, as a moralist perpetuating a system that cannot be moral. Asian-American and female in a white man's world, she realizes with the help of her unhappy father that nepotism can only take her so far; she clamours for change, but doesn't care who gets hurt on the way. The play implies through her, and through Lee's derision at this juxtaposition in her behaviour, that the 1% class is a hereditary virus which ultimately infects all of its members through enough exposure.

It's because of this message that the symbolism of Justine and Shannon as wanderers through an outside forest, left on the outside, doesn't quite land; visually, they are equated through their accusing stares as women who are equally taken advantage of or used, in a way that doesn't play out in the script. It feels as though there's a message here about how women of all walks are forced to participate in oppressive cycles of their own dehumanization; however, the absence of the young sex worker's perspective feels like a void unbalancing that message. That Shannon and Justine are essentially representing her gaze indicates that a message developed in this sealed white box can only go so far without those voices, despite its effective satire of the ones inside.

Photo Credit: Mike Meehan

From This Author - Ilana Lucas

Ilana Lucas is an English professor at Toronto’s Centennial College. She holds a BA in English and Theatre from Princeton University, and an MFA in Dramaturgy and Script Development from Colu... (read more about this author)

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