AUDIENCE, UNVEILING, PROTEST by Vaclav Havel, directed by Dean Gabourie, with Heidi Weeks Brown, Richard Alan Campbell, David Ferry, Adrian Griffin, Anthony Malarky, Michael Proudfoot and Dinah Watts. Presented by The Co. at the Victory Cafe (581 Markham). Previews tonight (Thursday, November 29), opens Friday (November 30) and runs to December 8, Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday 8 pm, Saturday 7:30 and 10:30 pm. $15-$20, Monday pwyc. 416-516-2103. Rating: NNNNN
bill c-36, no matter what form it takes, scares a lot of people.The proposed anti-terrorist law that will give the government overreaching powers and limit individual rights strikes an eerie chord for the members of The Co.
The theatre group had a hit at last summer's Fringe with Audience, Unveiling, Protest, a trio of one-act pieces written in the 70s by Vaclav Havel, imprisoned for his political activities in Czechoslovakia. Years later, Havel became president of Czechoslovakia and in 1992 of the newly established Czech Republic.
But for many he's best known for his early, paranoia-tinged scripts that reflect life in a society where it's necessary to look over your shoulder before offering an opinion to anyone, even a friend.
"It's that incessant feeling of distrust, of who's listening to whom, that gives this current production a chill that wasn't in the Fringe show," notes company member Adrian Griffin, who co-founded The Co. with director Dean Gabourie.
"With the possibility of Bill C-36, the "they' in our lives become more present, as they are for Vanek, Havel's alter ego in the plays."
The most striking element in The Co.'s production -- to be emphasized this time around -- is the weaving of the three pieces, each featuring Vanek, into a single unit.
He confronts in turn his beermaster boss (Audience), a married couple who profess to be his best friends (Unveiling) and an upscale TV producer/writer who's concerned about a public petition (Protest).
As Richard Alan Campbell's Vanek steps from one playing area to another, the other characters "eavesdrop" on the shifting central action, at times even invading another's performing space in the venue, the L-shaped Victory Cafe.
Vanek, like Havel, is arrested and jailed, his writings banned, for his outspoken belief in human rights. When he's freed, the only job he can get is at a brewery, although the nouveau-riche couple urge him to capitulate and become bourgeois, and the TV producer acknowledges Vanek's unspoken power with the authorities as well as other dissidents.
"But Vanek's not a hero," offers Campbell. "All he's done is decide where to draw the line, the point where he can't compromise his beliefs and politics any further.
"As a result, he's attacked by people who can't go as far as he has in living out those beliefs."
"All the others characters -- colleagues, friends, employers -- place expectations on him," adds Griffin, who plays the brewmaster here but performed Vanek in a version of Audience that toured English pubs back in 1984. "Each of their arguments has a grain of sense in it. The brewmaster's argument, that people see Vanek as a hero regardless of what he says, strikes closest to home."
The interview plays out like a verbal tennis match, as Campbell and Griffin joke around and fill out the details of each other's statements. They've worked on this piece for 10 months with The Co. and also have a long history with Shakespeare in the Rough, where they performed King John, All's Well That Ends Well and last summer's Measure For Measure.
It's a Saturday morning, earlier than many theatre people wake up, but the actors' sleepy eyes focus when they discuss material that fuels them artistically and politically.
"We're living in a society that could become like Vanek and Havel's," nods Campbell, "where governments use and abuse power and ordinary people allow it to happen, buying arguments for the curtailment of their own rights."