CONFEDERATION written and directed by Michael Hollingsworth, with Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Elizabeth Brown, Greg Campbell, Patrick Conner, Dylan Roberts, Ostap Soroka and Bruce Vavrina. Presented by VideoCabaret at the Cameron House (408 Queen West). Limited run, Tuesday-Friday 7:30 pm, Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $15-$25, Tuesday pwyc. 416-703-1725. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Think of confederation as a comic birthday party for Canada a little early in the year. The show starts with Brent Snyder's tinkly, baby-toy version of O Canada. The tune, though, isn't a lullaby but, rather, a wake-up call to the devious hilarity that John A. Macdonald uses to bring disparate parties together into the nation we know as Canada.It's the view of writer/director Michael Hollingsworth that satire, chicanery and stupidity played equal parts in the making of our country.
Weaving the stories of Louis Riel and Wilfrid Laurier into that of the Machiavelli- and liquor-inspired, red-nosed Macdonald, Hollingsworth uses his trademark blackout scenes to paint an entertaining, broadly funny history.
And he knows how to move the action along. One of the skills that Hollingsworth and lighting designer Andy Moro deploy - so integral to the work that it's hard to spot - is how long to hold a scene before snapping to darkness. There's just the right second or two hold on a face that shows venality or surprise, just the exact moment of a plan hatched, to fill in a rich world of clownish emotions.
The cast, wearing Astrid Janson's and Julie Renton's hilariously overblown costumes, has some fine moments in multiple roles, with Patrick Conner's bibulous Macdonald, never far from a bottle, holding it all together, the gleeful puppet master pulling everyone's strings. Bruce Vavrina's bookish, underhanded Laurier is also sharp, as are Elizabeth Brown's oversized, Humpty Dumpty Alexander Galt and Greg Campbell's self-flagellating George Brown.
But the standouts this time around are Aviva Armour-Ostroff in seven distinct roles - I especially loved her fanatical, thunder-and-lightning Bishop Bourget, who eventually forces naive, freethinking Riel (Dylan Roberts) out of seminary school - and Ostap Soroka, whose hairpieces resemble nothing so much as a congregation of various owls. Both understand the larger-than-life nature of their parts, where more really is more. And funnier.