UnderCurrents 2013: THE PUBLIC SERVANT

Right!  We’re heading into the final leg of my opening night roundup of Undercurrents 2013, and if you’ve been reading it had been a pretty swell night so far.  SKIN was amazing, and BREAD was delightfully interactive, small-scale fun.  Now, it was time to see if I could make it three for three.  And yes, okay, I’m notoriously easy to please, and I was in a pretty good mood (if a little on the hungry side, but my bread was baking..!), but I was still a little bit uncertain about the last show of the evening.  It was a group I was unfamiliar with, after all, and while that’s exciting, you never do know what you’re gonna get, eh?  But Fest Director Pat Gauthier had done good by me for two years running, so I had very high hopes.

Photo by Jacqui Jensen-Roy, much obliged!
Photo by Jacqui Jensen-Roy, much obliged!

The show, from veteran company Theatre Columbus, was THE PUBLIC SERVANT, a mostly-comedy about the life, or lack thereof, of a newbie parliamentary employee and her time in the public service.  Helmed by Theatre Columbus Artistic Director Jennifer Brewin and starring Haley McGee, Amy Rutherford, and familiar GCTC face Sarah McVie, SERVANT follows uber-patriot Madge (Haley McGee, all wide-eyed exuberance) as she enters into a life of public service with the noblest of intentions.  Unfortunately she quickly slams face-first into tangled, soul-crushing bureaucracy in the form of worn-down veteran Cynthia (a deadpanningly hysterical Amy Rutherford) and her immediate superior Lois (Sarah McVie, never funnier), hopeless smile eternally stamped on her face. Together they end up tackling a massive project, which may or may not involve asparagus (sssh!), during which we learn more about what makes each of these ladies tick, what Hollywood hunk the guy down the hall supposedly looks like, and whether or not it’s possible to actually do some good in the federal government.

It really isn't. (more Jacqui Jensen-Roy photo goodness!)
It really isn’t. (more Jacqui Jensen-Roy photo goodness!)

Just to get it out of the way up front…THE PUBLIC SERVANT is flat-out hilarious.  From Madge’s opening patriotic rant about her love of all things Canadian (she can name every provincial flower in order, as well as quote Tragically Hip lyrics at the drop of a hat), the laughs get yanked out of the audience so efficiently it was the first time Brian Carroll’s signature guffaw actually had trouble standing out.  Sarah McVie is seriously great as the almost tragically optimistic Lois, ignoring the daily failures around her and focusing instead on page margins and font sizes, and other things remotely within her control.  Amy Rutherford meanwhile is screamingly funny as Cynthia, a hero to Madge who has been so beaten down by the system she’s turned dry hostility into an art form.  These two and their routines slowly wear naive Madge down, as the realities of ‘public service’ become crystal clear, and the almost terrifying satire that we’ve secretly been watching makes itself visible.  It’s smart as Hell, and gut-bustingly funny to boot.  Side note: there’s a rather painless bit of audience participation that happens at the top of the show (nothing scary, have no fear), with a brilliant payoff at the end.  So good.

I hadn’t laughed that much in a good long while, and my thanks to the Theatre Columbus gang for an incredible capper to opening night.  Well, it wasn’t quite over yet, as there was pizza awaiting in the lobby when we left the studio (I ate too much too fast, and I’d do it again!) for a nice little opening afterparty.    It was a sweet night well worth the wait…cool people, great theatre, and I’ll be back for more tonight!  Up next: LADIES OF THE LAKE!  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

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