DEMOCRACY by Michael Frayn, directed by Richard Rose (Tarragon, 30 Bridgman). To April 6. Pwyc-$38. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNN
If fervour over Barack Obama and disappointment over Stéphane Dion are signs of the times, we’re craving charismatic, visionary leaders.
Michael Frayn’s Democracy chronicles the chancellorship of such a politician, left-leaning West German leader Willy Brandt (R.H. Thomson). Brandt’s determination to mend his fractured country met with a great deal of opposition at the time, even if it led to reconciliation down the road. Sounds like dramatic passion-inducing stuff, right? Well, it would be – if we actually saw the drama onstage.
Instead, we’re told about it by Günter Guillaume (Alon Nashman), an East German spy who worked for years as one of Brandt’s closest aids. It’s a logical choice; as Guillaume reports his findings to Stasi officer Arno Kretschmann (Alex Poch-Goldin), we come to understand the forces at play within Brandt’s tenuous coalition.
Frayn relies on this device too heavily. No matter how well Thomson conveys Brandt’s Trudeau-like charm, or how assuredly director Richard Rose builds the nervous buzz between the eight actors on the eve of a vote of non-confidence, you can’t ignore the fact that the majority of the drama happens offstage.
There’s talk of fractured marriages, the illicit affairs of both Brandt and Guillaume, but those matters, too, are kept at a remove.
Not that the evening isn’t worthwhile. Frayn obviously did his research, and with the aid of costume designer Charlotte Dean, Rose effectively shows the stuffiness-giving-way-to-sexiness of Germany’s own Trudeau era.
Frayn should have taken a page from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives Of Others) or our own Hannah Moscovitch. It’s emotion that gets us going.
Otherwise, no matter how well-rendered a story, all you have is history onstage.