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Politicians in the spotlight

Politicians can be a never-ending source of laughs – as anyone who’s been following the Rob Ford saga can attest.

In Theatre UNB’s new production, Generous, our government is played for both comedy and tragedy as humanity’s fundamental goodness is put to the test in a series of four interconnected vignettes.

Featuring everything from a blood-drenched cabinet minister to an intensely physical struggle over a bucket of KFC, Generous is sure to generate some controversy – something that the show’s director, Len Falkenstein, says never hurts.

“There’s nothing too outlandish in it . . . well, maybe I shouldn’t say that,” he said with a grin. “It’s really outrageous satire of the type you might see on This Hour Has 22 Minutes or Air Farce – only with a lot more swearing.”

Written by Michael Healey, a Canadian satirical playwright whose shows include the immensely popular The Drawer Boy and last year’s Proud, where Healey himself portrayed Stephen Harper on stage, each of Generous’s four acts are centered on an unforeseen charitable deed, seen through the lens of federal politics. However, Falkenstein says audiences won’t have to be PoliSci majors to enjoy the show.

“One of Healey’s gifts as a writer is that he’s able to take the world of politicians, lawyers and journalists and make it accessible to anyone,” he explained. “He really hones in on the issues and the problems that we all share.”

Few events were able to escape last month’s faculty strike unscathed, however, and Generous is no exception. Originally scheduled to be staged at the end of January, the play had to be put on hold for three weeks. Given the tight scheduling of events at Memorial Hall, there were initial fears that the show would be bumped altogether. But Falkenstein said that some creative rescheduling was able to save the show, and its unique 4-act structure lent itself to an expedited rehearsal schedule.

”One of the reasons we chose it was because we knew that a possible strike was looming,” he said. “The way this play is written, it was going to be easier to deal with a possible shortage of time to prepare.”

Generous is being staged by UNB’s senior acting class, Drama 3170, and Falkenstein made sure to choose a challenging play for them. As he explains, he wanted a contemporary play that would feel relevant to audiences, and found inspiration in the headlines.

“We were looking for a play roundabout the beginning of November, and that’s when Rob Ford and the Senate scandals were swapping as top story on the news nightly,” said Falkenstein. “So it seemed appropriate to do a play about politics and politicians. It’s got some really great characters and complex, nuanced storylines, and those are things I look for to do with this class since they are the advanced group.”

Student actors Emily Reuangrith and Matthew McCarthy are responsible for the epic slapstick battle over a very dinged-up bucket of fried chicken. As the tiny Reuangrith sets herself against the looming McCarthy, they exchange extremely convincing slaps and slams as Falkenstein looks on – all set to Billy Talent’s “This is How it Goes.”

“I find it really challenging for me because we have a whole fight scene and I’m not used to that,” said an out-of-breath Reuangrith. Strenuous physical action notwithstanding, she said the uniquely interwoven stories of Generous appealed to her.

“I do appear in one of the other scenes, and I like how people will connect the dots with how the characters interact,” she said. Falkenstein praised Generous’s writing as well, saying that the chicken battle does pay off in a powerful way.

“When you come back to that story in the second act you realize that there’s a really poignant, dramatic story behind it – what you first see is not what you actually get. So it’s a really neat mix of satire, comedy and drama all rolled into one.”

Generous is directed by Len Falkenstein and will be performed at 8 p.m. nightly, Wednesday, Feb. 19 through Saturday, Feb. 22, at Memorial Hall on the UNB campus. Tickets ($14 regular, $10 for seniors and the underage, $8 for students) are available at the door. For more information, email lfalken@unb.ca or phone 447-3078.

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