CITY FOR SALE written and directed by Deanne Taylor, with Janet Burke, Patrick Conner, Beverley Cooper, Greg Campbell, Shari Hollett, Ruth Madoc-Jones, Anand Rajaram and Stephen Sparks. Presented by VideoCabaret at the Cameron House (408 Queen West). Runs to May 30, Tuesday-Friday 7 pm, Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $15-$25, Tuesday pwyc. 416-703-1725. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
City For Sale is no bargain base ment production. It's written with passion and performed with zest - a large, cartoon-style exposé of the corruption that seems to be endemic to big-city government when it comes in contact with big business. Writer/director Deanne Taylor 's look at a familiar large metropolis poised on the brink of a mayoral election and run by backroom politics, graft and influence-peddling may sound a bit like recent local history. And if you need any more hints that it's Toronto-centric, the city's also got a nearby island community and plans by those in power to put an airport on the island.
Covering a year's events - with the island residents (lightly satirized and a kind of chorus) offering an overview of the move from season to season - the piece is staged in the reliable VideoCabaret style in the company's black-box theatre, with actors in whiteface, wearing bizarre wigs and using a presentational acting style that draws fully on caricature. Extended scenes (compared to the quick blackouts in Michael Hollingsworth's Canadian history plays) mean there's a chance for some sustained character development.
Taylor brings an astute comic eye to municipal politics and the tendency of government to bend over for big-business interests. The cast of eight play dozens of roles, and much of the acting is similarly droll.
It's great to see VideoCab vets like Janet Burke , Patrick Conner and Greg Campbell shine again. Burke plays Wendy, a chief commissioner who doesn't see anything wrong with playing politics in an unkosher, it's-all-about-me fashion, while Conner oozes rancid snake oil as smug, smarmy Rosedale-based mayoral candidate John Tower III and also Fred Donnor, a clear-eyed journalist who won't sell out. Campbell likewise does a moral 180, tackling both media baron Oscar Price, a power-craving puppetmaster, and Mac Mackenzie, the grassroots mayoral candidate.
But the special pleasure of this show is discovering newcomers who excel in a style in which a covert smirk, an outrageous moue or a look of wild panic fills us in as effectively as a whole page of dialogue.
Standouts here are the dryly comic Stephen Sparks , whose lobbyist Nick Wolfe has fingers and toes in every sexual and political pie going; Ruth Madoc-Jones as Price's pollster daughter, Paula, with a blond wig and flirtatious Marilyn Monroe gestures to match; and the very funny Anand Rajaram , whose outgoing mayor Max Hamwell, complete with hair plugs and muddled thoughts he can't complete, never fails to stick both feet in his mouth.