nytheatre.com review by Terri Galvin
August 18, 2006
Be honest. On the morning of November 3rd, 2004, did you consider making good on previous threats to "move to Canada"? Me? I was packing for Portugal before hitting on a better solution: NYC's secession from the Union. (Note to Mayor Mike: we need to talk!)
And apparently we're not alone. According to the program notes from Chris Earle's one-man show, Democrats Abroad, the number of U.S. citizens visiting Canada's official immigration website increased by a whopping 600 percent in the week after George W. Bush's re-election (or, perhaps more accurately, election?). Hmm, . . . swap the land of Karl Rove and Tom DeLay for the country that gave us Slings and Arrows, cheap prescription meds, and all those hunky NHL players? Not a tough call if you agree that Canada's "like a minivan: not sexy, but safe, and there's room for everyone."
Clearly, there's no shortage of satirical humor here, but Earle's dystopian tale is actually far more chilling than comical. For starters, it's 2009: the Republicans still have control of Congress and the White House, the U.S. has invaded Syria (reinstating the draft), and Michael Moore has gone "missing" under suspicious circumstances. Earle's future America—where troops fire on anti-war rallies and the government "detains" ordinary citizens who happen to browse the wrong website—makes today's wiretapping and rendition atrocities look like First Amendment Paradise. As hordes of disaffected Americans seek asylum north of the border, the resulting mix prompts both the exiles and their Canadian hosts to re-evaluate individual and collective notions about cultural and geopolitical identity.
Sucked into this maelstrom is Greg, an unemployed Torontonian actor with an endearing crush on all things New York-esque, including the distinctly "American" passion, vehemence, and optimism of exiled actress/director, Angela. Together they develop a performance workshop meant to give first-hand witness to recent Constitutional travesties. That is, until the U.S. Homeland Security Office categorizes most American emigrants as "enemy combatants," and dispatches armed forces into Canada to effect their extradition.
No doubt about it, this is substantive storytelling with a sound narrative arc, attractive characters, and highly elevated stakes. And yet I wonder if material so inherently dramatic might be better served by the more traditional structure of a play rather than a monologue. As directed by Shari Hollett, Earle's ironic observations and rueful commentary certainly enhance Greg's appeal as a narrator, but often disrupt the pace when the plot morphs into a pulse-quickening political thriller.
Earle was born in the U.S. and moved to Canada at age 11, and his hybridized perspective manages to sidestep the usual clichés regarding patriotism, national stereotypes, and Canada's alleged inferiority complex. So is it his American (i.e., "optimistic") side that soft-pedals his ending into such a safe resolution? Or, given that Oprah Winfrey figures so prominently, perhaps it's actually a sly streak of Canadian irony. In any event, there's a potent enough combination of content and craft throughout to recommend this show—even if the Cheney-Specter bill weren't looming on our horizon like some civil-liberties-stalking vulture.
Of course, you'd better hurry. By the time Secretary Chertoff gets wind of this show's thematic content, Earle could be drafting his next play from the unplumbed bowels of Guantanamo. And if I persist in my seditious little rants about the death of Enlightenment ideals and the Founding Fathers' spinning in their graves, etc., etc., he just might find yours truly as a particularly supportive next-cell-neighbor.