Stage Door Review 2022


Sunday, November 27, 2022


by Hannah Moscovitch, directed by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu

Tarragon Theatre, Tarragon Mainspace, Toronto

November 17-December 4, 2022

Bill: “You have to curb yourself”

Hannah Moscovitch’s new play Post-Democracy, now receiving its Toronto premiere at the Tarragon Theatre, has a title that promises much but the play delivers little either in quality or quantity. It is only one hour long but it makes its point after only 20 minutes with the remaining 40 minutes made up of repetition and a pointless subplot.

Moscovitch’s revelation is that the wealthy 1% do not feel common ethical standards apply to them. This revelation will only be shocking (or even a revelation) to anyone who has not read the news for the last six years and discovered that powerful people and celebrities and even the former President of the United States have seen themselves as above the law. The Tarragon’s webpage for the play asks, “What happens to morality when human beings have limitless power?” British historian Lord Acton seems to have answered that question in 1857, when he said, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely”. In drama just think of Shakespeare’s King John, Macbeth, or Richard III. In history just have a glance at Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars (121AD) which includes Caligula, Nero and Domitian, and it’s clear that topic of power’s link to corruption has already been well explored.

Does Moscovitch have anything new to say on the topic? Unfortunately not. The crime central to the play is nothing close to what the top 1% get up to in Shakespeare or Suetonius or what’s been splashed across the news in recent years.

Moscovitch’s approach to exploring the question is also unengaging. The action is set in the lounge of an executive suite in a hotel in an unnamed South American country. Members of a North America company have travelled to the unnamed country to purchase a local company that will help them depend less on China. To sweeten the deal the South American company has sent an underaged girl to the room of Canadian COO Lee for sex. For three-fourths of the play, CEO Bill and his adopted daughter and CFO Justine grill Lee over whether he did or did not have sex with the girl. If only I had brought my tally counter with me I could give you the exact number of times the same question is asked. All I know is that it is well over 30.

At the same time Lee wants to know whether Bill’s company will or will not buy the South American company. A tally counter would have been useful here because the total was well over 20. Bill is unsure because he wants to see whether a sex scandal back in Canada will affect his company’s reputation. Once we learn that Bill company has bought the South American company, Lee relents in his temporizing and admits the truth. The big surprise is that Lee’s unethical behaviour will in no way affect Bill’s designating Lee, his fifth cousin, to succeed him as CEO over Justine, his own daughter.

Moscovitch has an hour to fill out but rather than giving us any background to the characters. she merely has them repeat the same questions and avoid the answers until it is safe to answer. Bill tells Lee that Lee has to curb his sexual behaviour, and Lee vows to do so, including breaking off his relationship with the administrative assistant Shannon. Yet, that resolution crumbles easily when we see that Shannon herself wants their relationship to continue and even specifies what positions (not administrative) she’d like to try.

Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, so excellent in directing meaty plays such as Is God Is this year or Trout Stanley and The Brothers Size in 2019 or Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 2018, can do nothing to beef up so flimsy a piece as Post-Democracy. She has characters take long pauses before answering questions, but Moscovitch has not constructed her text in such a way that pauses create an atmosphere of menace or ambiguity as they do in Pinter or Mamet. There’s lots of schoolyard shouting but no mental game-playing.

The result is that the play has four characters and only one good role. Diego Matamoros lends a gravitas to Bill that contrasts sharply with the superficiality of the other three. Matamoros has Bill speak in a calm deliberate way that evinces Bill’s years of experience and connivance. Only Matamoros can speak a line and subtly suggest the calculation that has gone into speaking it.

Moscovitch’s other figures are all one-note characters. Jesse LaVercombe is a callous, shameless and unshamable young man as Lee, with nothing more to him. Chantelle Han is the would-be virtuous daughter Justine who through her charities tries to do something to make up for unethical behaviour tolerated within Bill’s company and between Bill’s company and others. Yet she, like the others has her price and is as worried as they are about how the sex scandal at home will affect the company’s performance in the stock market. Moscovitch could have made Rachel Cairns as Shannon a less superficial character – one who could be using her relationship with Lee to rise within the company, but Moscovitch doesn’t explore that possibility.

Post-Democracy is one of those unusual cases where the physical production is more eloquent than the play itself. When we enter the theatre, the stage is covered with the same type of plastic used to make garbage bags. When Louise Guinand’s blinding white lights come up we see Teresa Przybylski’s immaculate all-white set, except for a blood-red chaise-longe where Lee and Shannon later make out. Once our eyes have adjusted we see that this pure white room is built on the remnants of the black garbage bags as if to reinforce the fact that Bill’s company tries to present an image that it is radically separate from the garbage of the world when in fact that garage is what holds the room up. The back wall is a neo-abstract impressionist painting with the only earth tones in the design. Through Guinand’s backlighting we find that this painting is really a scrim behind which can be seen a grove of trees as if Bill’s appreciation of this art represents a connection to nature that he has lost. What Justine, ultimately as venal as the others, is doing in that setting is a mystery.

Unless you are a dedicated Moscovitch fan, Post-Democracy is not necessary viewing. The term “post-democracy” was coined by political scientist Colin Crouch in 2000 to describe regimes that play out the rituals of democracy through elections, but in which key policies are increasing controlled by a small “politico-economic elite”.

Economists refer to both corporations and countries as “producing units” and it is has become clear in the 21st century that, as Benjamin B. Greene, Jr. wrote back in 1983, “As the resources controlled by a single company approach or surpass those of the host nation, serious issues of political independence also arise”. At the same time, as Foreign Policy found in 2016, 25 companies are more powerful than many countries: “Going stateless to maximize profits, multinational companies are vying with governments for global power”. CEOs are well on the way to replacing heads of state as power brokers.

Sadly, Moscovitch explores nothing of this side of “post-democracy” and concentrates solely on the collusion to suppress knowledge of unethical behaviour within companies. In so doing she omits any discussion of the most disturbing and wide-ranging aspects of the term she has chosen for her title.

Christopher Hoile

Photo: Jesse LaVercombe as Lee and Diego Matamoros as Bill; Chatelle Han as Justine and Diego Matamoros as Bill; Rachel Cairns as Shannon and Chatelle Han as Justine. © 2022 Mike Meehan.

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