CHIMERA by Wendy Lill, directed by Mary Vingoe, with Philippa Domville, David Fox and David Jansen. Presented by the Tarragon (30 Bridgman). Previews from Tuesday (January 2), opens January 9 and runs to February 11. Pwyc-$38. See Opening, page 56. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNNN
Politics and personal agendas collide in Chimera, Wendy Lill's fast-paced political drama. The four-time Governor General's Award nominee's latest play debates the ethics of implanting human embryonic cells into developing monkey brains.
Ideological and a tad heavy-handed? Yes, but actor David Jansen who plays Roy Ruggles, the crusty journalist at the centre of the drama makes no apology for the fact that Chimera is an idea-driven play.
"Shaw and Brecht were both idea-based playwrights," says Jansen. "There's something very thrilling about conveying ideas in a theatrical context. I believe people are hungry for that right now. But at the same time, as an actor, you're not a mouthpiece for a certain point of view. You have to embrace all the complexities and contradictions. It's wrestling with those points of view that keeps the audience riveted hopefully."
Though Jansen, a member of the Shaw Fest acting troupe last season, is attached to the notion of theatre as a vehicle for social change, he also has a depth and playful intelligence that ought to bring freshness to the role of the beleaguered and cynical Ruggles.
Chimera is not simply a thought-provoking orgy of ideas and character studies, Jansen notes.
Beyond the arguments about what it means to be human, the play also offers a perspective rarely seen onstage that of an MP.
"One of the aspects that keeps me very interested in the piece," Jansen explains, "is Wendy's experience as an MP. I sense deep disillusionment about politics in the play. It examines the widespread cynicism among lobbyists, politicians and the media.
"It also looks at why everybody, the electorate included, has given up on democracy."