>>> Review: These Instructions create powerful theatre


INSTRUCTIONS (TO ANY FUTURE SOCIALIST GOVERNMENT WISHING TO ABOLISH CHRISTMAS) by Michael Mackenzie (Coal Mine, 1454 Danforth). Runs to June 19. $35. coalminetheatre.com/tickets. See listing. Rating: NNNN

Theres nothing like an imminent economic catastrophe to stir up a troubled personal relationship.

Thats the case in Michael Mackenzies clever Instructions (To Any Future Socialist Government Wishing To Abolish Christmas), set just at the start of the 2008 collapse of the American financial markets that went on to rattle the rest of the world.

Were in the office of Jason (Ted Dykstra), a canny and nervous hedge fund manager. Hes holding the line, unwilling to allow clients to sell they get the jitters, it happens trying to keep everyone calm and his own immense holdings intact.

Enter Cass (Diana Bentley), his key financial analyst, a whiz with numbers but not so good at communicating personally. In fact, shes recently home from the hospital following an episode (read breakdown), and we soon learn shes come to talk to Jason not only about where the market is going but also where their relationship is headed: theres more between them than boss/employee.

He, though, wants her to help him find a loophole out of what looks like an international meltdown.

In the confines of the Coal Mine Theatre, this confrontation is intense and without let-up its also wonderfully funny, especially in the way Cass, whos somewhere on the autism spectrum, practises expressing her feelings with Jason.

Under David Storchs fast-paced but detailed direction, we catch whiffs of the chaos reigning on the trading floor and the pressure felt in phone calls to Jasons lawyer and a key investor.

But were focused on Cass and Jasons confrontation, in which she tries to use language rather than numbers to explain herself and he complains about the wife whos suing him for divorce and a lot of money. Ethics are peripheral, he says, referring to the fund but also human connections.

The performers, who run Coal Mine and are appearing for the first time together on its stage, are first rate. Dykstra oozes charm when Jason thinks its necessary, but more than once he reveals a nasty, insensitive side.

Bentleys bravura work stands out, physically in the way her hands comfort each other like shy birds or her fingers splay out like uncertain twigs initially her face reveals little affect.

Her handling of Casss growth into a clear, multi-faceted woman who has learned the difference between metaphoric and literal statements is impressive. She finally reveals her secrets, which are wrapped up in a fascinating mix of historic Greek figures, DNA, Christmas good-will and an iconic Michael J. Fox film. Watch, as one example of Bentleys nuanced work, Casss demonstration of how a TV commercial taught her how to empathize non-verbally with another person.

Along the way, Mackenzie offers some extraordinary financial arguments, among them that debt is a sound investment, regardless of how and from whom one collects that debt.

But dont worry about the technical financial jargon he sometimes uses Mackenzie makes most of it clear while dissecting the emotions between this strangely matched couple.

If you follow these Instructions, youre in for an excellent time at the theatre.

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