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review

Chantelle Han and Jesse LaVercombe in Post-Democracy at the Tarragon Theatre.Mike Meehan

  • Title: Post-Democracy
  • Written by: Hannah Moscovitch
  • Director: Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu
  • Actors: Rachel Cairns, Chantelle Han, Jesse LaVercombe and Diego Matamoros
  • Company: Tarragon Theatre
  • City: Toronto
  • Year: Runs in-person to Dec. 4, 2022.
  • COVID-19 measures: Masks required in the theatre; digital version available for at-home viewing from Nov. 29 to Dec. 28

Post-Democracy is being billed as a world premiere at the Tarragon Theatre – but, because of the disruption of a pandemic (of which we are not yet post-), Thursday’s opening night performance was actually my second time seeing this Hannah Moscovitch play.

Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange had earlier staged and filmed a production without an audience of the short Succession-style drama in 2021 – the recording of which was streamed on its website and then, later, on the Stratford Festival’s Stratfest@Home platform.

This Tarragon production directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, too, is being filmed to be available as a part of the theatre company’s Chez Vous at-home programming.

This philosophical issue – if a play premieres online has it really premiered? – will not affect most people’s appreciation of Moscovitch’s play. As a critic, however, I mainly found it hard to return to a play so soon after reviewing another production of it. It invited second thoughts.

Post-Democracy takes place in a hotel conference room in an unnamed South American country where the leadership of a family-controlled corporation has gathered to decide whether to acquire a local company.

CEO Bill (Diego Matamoros) arrives first; COO Lee (Jesse LaVercombe), who is a distant cousin of Bill, comes next; and then lands CFO Justine (Chantelle Han), who is Bill’s daughter.

There are a few scandals, to put it mildly to avoid spoilers, lurking behind the art of this particular deal.

A #MeToo-style media report about a brand manager who sexually harassed an executive assistant is out – which means the public-relations manager named Shannon (Rachel Cairns) flies out to discuss how this might affect stock prices.

Then there’s the matter of Bill’s health; he’s recently been handed a diagnosis that has sped up succession planning.

Finally, there is the question of what exactly Lee did when a girl showed up at his hotel room in the middle of the night as a “sweetener” from the company hoping to be acquired. Did he turn her away? And, if he didn’t, just how odious was – to employ the preferred euphemism here – “the incident”?

The heavy lifting of the play lands on LaVercombe as Lee, who is in every scene, and seems to have no impulse control in some of them, but speaks hesitantly in lots of one-word sentences like “so” in others. Though he had his moments, I found the performance a mix of acting awkward and awkward acting – and wasn’t sure how much to lay this on the writer versus the performer.

The stand-out performance, by contrast, is Cairns as Shannon whose moral compass is murkier – and whose twists and turns are fascinating to observe and rooted in her own personal trauma.

I would have liked to know more about the background of Matamoros’s Bill, who mainly stays mum, and Han’s Justine, who is outspoken about reforming corporate culture until she isn’t, to make them seem less like types meant to stand in for the way abuses continue because of turning a blind-eye or hypocrisy, respectively. At a running time of 60 minutes, the world could have been fleshed out a little more beyond the immediate conflicts.

But it’s not a requirement that a play feature entirely balanced characters – and the set designed by the great Teresa Pryzbylski (which justly received applause at the start of the show) composed of slanted white walls that literally frame the action helps the audience appreciate that we are watching a play with a slant.

Interestingly enough, Pryzybylski created a similar design (thought this one has more layers) for a production of David Mamet’s Oleanna at Soulpepper in 2011. That production, too, shared an actor with Post-Democracy in Matamoros.

It’s worth remembering that Moscovitch first broke onto the scene in 2005 with a play that was explicitly framed as a dramatic response to Oleanna – a three-hander called Essay.

Jesse LaVercombe and Diego Matamoros.Mike Meehan

While I made a comparison of Post-Democracy to Succession earlier in this review, that show has become a very funny and expensively produced Mametian soap opera about the super-rich; you could read Moscovitch’s play (though it was first commissioned from her over a decade ago) as a short sharp scabrous response to it.

As I imagined in my review of the PTE film, this drama with elements of dark comedy did play differently in front of a live audience. There was tension between those who laugh at terrible subject matter and those who find some subject matter too terrible to laugh at. (No judgment to either response.)

But the question is asked in the form of the play: Do you really want to be entertained by the one per cent, those who somehow became friends with Jeffrey Epstein and apparently knew absolutely nothing of his involvement in child prostitution (including his pal who is brother to Canada’s new king)? I thought of a couple of Canadian corporations with leaders who have evinced a dubious dedication to democracy or human rights, too.