It’s the beginning of June, the sun is (occasionally) shining, and most of the big theatre seasons are winding down to make room for Fringe. At least, I assume everything was planned that way, and it works pretty well for me. The Gladstone and NAC have already launched their last shows, and this week the GCTC premiered their final show of the 2013/14 season, aka the season that Coates built. This show marks the end of Eric Coates’ inaugural season as the new GCTC Artistic director, and he decided to do a little double duty for the occasion, putting on his actor shows and actually starring in the show himself. And considering the show’s pedigree and kick-ass cast, I can hardly blame him for wanting in.
A world premiere from Canuck superscribe George F.Walker, who I last saw performed in Algonquin College’s dandy production of ZASTROZZI some years back, THE BURDEN OF SELF AWARENESS is directed by Arthur Milner, himself a bit of a GCTC legend. Featuring Coates as Michael, a multimillionaire success who finds himself in a moral crisis following a life-altering event. He becomes inspired to turn over a new leaf and give most of his filthy lucre away to those more needy, an admirable bent that doesn’t exactly sit well with his pampered wife Judy (Sarah McVie).Her efforts to have him committed in an attempt to salvage her beloved wealth don’t get much traction, partially thanks to her mostly incompetent Psychiatrist/lover Stan (Paul Rainville). Michael, meanwhile, is involved in a somewhat more stable extramarital with brainy escort Lianne (Samantha Madely),oddly enough maybe the only healthy relationship in the whole story. As Michael and Judy become more and more estranged, a dubious born-again PI (Phil, played by John Koensgen) starts being used as a back-and-forth pawn between various parties. Schemes start piling up, meds stop being taken, underwear is clearly visible, and before long things take that inevitable turn down the dark kind of path that, quite frankly, you expect in a Walker bit.
First things first…this is maybe the best show off the season, and that’s a pretty easy call to make. Only THIS IS WAR (the other one to directly involve Eric Coates, tellingly enough) gives it a run for its money. The show plays out almost like a film noir sketch comedy show, with rapid fire scenes of humanity at its worst, knocked out in fine style by a cast at the top of its game and killer dialogue from Walker. Eric Coates really impresses as a man struggling to find a new path in life, while Sara McVie chews some impressive scenery as the increasingly unstable Judy. Paul Rainville steals a huge chunk of the show as neurotic, hopeless Stan, lost in a world he can no longer understand. John Koensgen is as good as I’ve ever seen him as the oddball detective Phil, never quite able to decide if he’d rather be a sinner or a saint. And this was my first time seeing Samantha Madely in action, and she’s got power to spare, turning Lianne into a memorable character almost scary in her intensity at times. It’s pretty cool. All of it is brought together with crazy tight direction from Milner, and great design from Martin Conboy (set and lights) and Aymar (sound). It’s a funny, sleazy, dark and memorable end to a solid debut season that Eric Coates has every right to be proud as pie about. And now I can’t wait for the next one! Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid (and Winston)