- Title: Post-Democracy
- Written by: Hannah Moscovitch
- Director: Thomas Morgan Jones
- Actors: Kristian Jordan, Arne MacPherson, Stephanie Sy, Alicia Johnston
- Company: Prairie Theatre Exchange
- City: Winnipeg
- Streaming: At pte.mb.ca to April 25, 2021
Imagine working for over a decade on a play about leadership succession at a family-controlled corporation complicated by a sexual-harassment scandal – and then HBO coming along and premiering Succession first. Bad timing, right?
Another way to look at it is that Hannah Moscovitch’s Post-Democracy – which she was first commissioned to write in 2007 – is finally having its world premiere at the perfect moment, as fans of that television series on a similar subject are stuck at home waiting for Season 3 and hungry for more.
Post-Democracy, a short, sharp stab at the 1 per cent and systemic sexism and racism in corporate environments, is available this month as a “digital production” from Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange. It’s essentially a quality recording of a stage production that hasn’t yet been able to meet a live, in-person audience.
An unnamed corporation’s CEO Bill (Arne MacPherson) and COO Lee (Kristian Jordan), who is also a distant relative of Bill’s, are in an undisclosed South American location mulling over the details of the possible purchase of a local manufacturer.
Meanwhile, back in their company’s country of origin (left vague), an online news outlet has broken the story of their brand manager’s sexual harassment of his executive assistant.
CFO Justine (Stephanie Sy), who also happens to be Bill’s daughter, is appalled by what this says about the work culture at her family business – and is very vocal about Lee’s role in fostering its toxicity.
Shannon (Alicia Johnston), the other female company employee on this trip abroad, doesn’t have the same luxury to be outraged; she has no three-letter job title, no blood connections to its leadership – and her main role seems to be damage control.
While there are certainly similarities with Succession (whose writer room is stacked with playwrights such as Lucy Prebble and Alice Birch), Post-Democracy differs most obviously in tone. Moscovitch’s plays are not without streaks of dark humour, but they’re not exactly laugh-out-loud affairs.
You could imagine this play creating great discomfort in a live audience and pitting pockets of spectators against one another with their differing reactions to each revelation – in the vein of Adam Lazarus’s provocative solo show Daughter.
The central unsettling figure in Post-Democracy is Lee – who was sent a nighttime visitor by the company he wants to acquire on the night he arrived, with whom he had an encounter about which we gradually learn more and more disturbing details. (I’m being coy even though the show’s unambiguous audience advisories are not.)
This awful human being is a gift for a male actor – a Mamettian figure uncomfortable in articulating thoughts unless they are profane outbursts of his id. Jordan gives a performance that dances between guilt-riddled and defensive, abetted by a mop of hair that his character ties up in a little ponytail during meetings, then hides under when he’s revealing his true self.
But Post-Democracy ultimately exposes hypocrisy in each character – exploring what they remain silent about, or ultimately decide to be silent about, and why.
It is a gift of the pandemic for this theatre critic, long rooted in Toronto, to have the ability to regularly drop in on the strong theatre talent based in Winnipeg through streaming or live productions; Manitoba has let its stage actors practise their craft safely, unlike Ontario. It was great to be reacquainted with the soulful work of MacPherson here in particular.
Many of Moscovitch’s plays have a structure in which a central figure delivers a monologue, from which scenes branch out. Not here: Post-Democracy is more traditionally drawn with characters talking to each other in rooms (or ignoring others talking as they stare at their phones).
There’s a hint of expressionism in Thomas Morgan Jones’s staging, however, with each of the four characters occupying their own elevated platform designed by Brian Perchaluk.
This has been done to make the staging and filming of the play safer during a pandemic, but is an appealing aesthetic on its own. I think it would have been more interesting for Jones to lean into that in the one scene that involved physical contact, rather than work around it with odd filming angles and close-ups.
While Moscovitch’s name will be enough for most theatre-goers to tune in, perhaps the Succession link will attract others to take in this sordid saga. In the often new-adverse arena of theatre, as in the business world, there can be benefits to being second to market.
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)
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