In this holiday season, no one is rooting for peace on Earth and good will to all mankind, unionized or otherwise, more passionately than playwright and actor Chris Earle.
At least until after 8 p.m. on Jan. 5. That's when CBC Television will finally air the screen adaptation of Radio: 30 -- his existential little play about a radio-ad pitchman at a recording session -- exactly one year after it was originally scheduled.
It was first pre-empted last January to make way for a tsunami-relief concert and was pushed back to April. As (bad) luck would have it, the Pope died the same week and Radio: 30 was replaced by a documentary on his life. Labour disruptions at the CBC in the late summer and early fall again derailed airtime.
When the elections were called for Jan. 23, the 42-year-old New York State native who moved to Montreal with his family at the age of 10 was relieved to read that the only dramatic casualty at the CBC would be a film based on the life of Tommy Douglas.
"I think that was deemed too politically sensitive," says Earle, modulating his voice just enough to drop the punchline that follows with the requisite aplomb. "As far as I'm concerned Radio: 30 is much more devastating to the nation."
It's not just the note-perfect delivery that makes the line typically Earle, a seasoned sketch-comedy performer, but the fact that there's always a kernel of a searing political or social truth lurking behind his most casual remarks and in all of his writing.
The story of Ron (played by Earle), a recovered thespian settling for a life of commercial voice-over work, is also one in which power dynamics between generations collide and the myth of personal control of one's own life in the free world is exposed.
"When you work with veteran older actors, you're face to face with that conundrum about being an actor," Earle explains. "No power, no real power, in the face of a producer or a director, yet there's dignity, self reliance and craft, and that's all you got.
"I think 90 per cent of the population have someone watching over them, making decisions that will affect their lives."
As directed for the small screen by Mark Staunton of Crow Street Films, Radio: 30 may lose its infectious theatricality, but gains an intimacy and a sense of claustrophobia that enriches the water-tight writing.
Vladimir Czyzeweski's cinematography closes in on, and rarely lets go of, Ron, and filters his sound engineer, Mike (Robert Smith), through the glass window of the recording studio (effectively a control tower), accentuating the Big Brother subtext of the original.
Assuming no Earth-shaking events will happen, January will be a busy month for Earle. Not only is Radio: 30 coming to the small screen, but another of his works, Democrats Abroad, will be coming to the stage.
Politics and comedy mix more freely and manifestly in Democrats Abroad. It's a one-man stage show written and performed by Earle about right-wing-fleeing Americans who relocate to major Canadian cities following a third consecutive Republican win in the 2008 U.S. elections. A critical hit at this year's SummerWorks Festival, Democrats Abroad begins a remount at the Factory Studio Theatre in Toronto on Jan. 11.
Unlike Radio: 30, which premiered at Toronto Fringe Festival in the summer of 1999 -- and has since played festivals all over North America, including a 2004 stop in New York where a rapturous review from The Times made it, and Earle, the toast of town -- the next phase in the life of Democrats Abroad had a now-or-never urgency to it.
"We needed to move on it and get it out there soon," says Earle, referring to Democrats Abroad. He is speaking on behalf of Shari Hollett, his director, dramaturge, toughest critic, wife, mother of their two children and co-producer of both Radio: 30 and Democrats Abroad through their company Night Kitchen. "We felt it was topical in a good way."
Still, it's unfair and critically inaccurate to label Democrats Abroad as political theatre.
"It has a political context," Earle explains. "I see it as a story, a love story, with satirical elements to it and a political backdrop. It resonates between the two things. Does political theatre have to investigate an issue and stick to that?"
Love story? Funny that. Love in Earle's writing spells trouble and is not just metaphorically rough around the edges. In Radio: 30, Ron's professional crisis stirs up painful memories of the time he betrayed his best friend by sleeping with his wife. In Democrats Abroad, the romance develops against a background of political torture, civil-rights violations and the kind of totalitarianism that makes George Orwell's stories read like a seasonal greeting.
In real life, Earle and Hollett have one of the most creatively fruitful and enduring partnerships in Toronto theatre. When one talks of the other, it's always in love-struck language. They met in 1990 while both were on the Second City comedy circuit and worked together for almost a year before becoming an item. While Earle may be the public face of Night Kitchen, Hollett must be credited for meticulously shaping and fine-tuning her husband's writing and performances.
"There are challenges, of course," says Earle of working so closely and intensely together, "but it's much less the director-actor in the rehearsal room and more the co-producers, putting on a show. That's all happening in our house, Night Kitchen central, with children running around."
If anything, rehearsal time is usually among the couple's most intimate moments. "It's a luxury for us. We don't have to answer the phone or pick up anybody from anywhere."