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Samantha Madeley, Paul Rainville, Sarah McVie, Eric Coates  Photo: GCTC Andrew Alexander
Samantha Madeley, Paul Rainville, Sarah McVie, Eric Coates Photo: GCTC Andrew Alexander

Theatre Review: "The Burden of Self Awareness" at the Great Canadian Theatre Company

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George F. Walker, Canada's multiple award-winning master of dark comedy, has written a new play. It's "The Burden of Self Awareness," currently running at GCTC in Ottawa through June 22. Being a fan of Mr. Walker's plays, I looked forward to this production, as I do with any of his plays.

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Reported by

Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

John Koensgen, Sarah McVie  Photo:GCTC Andrew Alexander
John Koensgen, Sarah McVie Photo:GCTC Andrew Alexander
GCTC is closing out their season with a terrific production of George F. Walker's new play, "The Burden of Self Awareness." This is the world premiere of what can be called both dark comedy and social satire. After a near-death experience, Michael decides to give his fortune away to the needy. His wife Judy, firmly ensconced in the 1 percent, her shrink Stan who's in the throes of a breakdown, Lianne, a call girl with a history degree and Phil, a private eye/hit man, all have different opinions on the matter. The play skewers the differences between the haves and have nots with biting humor.

This is a first-rate cast. Samantha Madely is very good as the lissome well-educated hooker Lianne, who's looking for a new direction in life. As Phil, a former news anchor turned detective, John Koensgen dithers believably between his Born Again faith and becoming a hit man. As the wound tight as a violin string Judy, Sarah McVie obviously needs, as she insists, "a large buffer" between herself and the have nots. She's also expert at shimmying out of her underpants without disarranging her dress.

Artist Director Eric Coates makes his acting debut at GCTC as Michael, who's searching for some kind of something in his life – although he's not quite sure what. He creates an appealing and many-faceted character. As Stan, the deteriorating shrink, Paul Rainville is hilarious. He manages to remain believable throughout his never quite over the top progressive drunkenness and dishevelment. At one point he wails, "You're looking for advice and that's not my job."

Martin Conboy has not only done his usual creative job with the lighting, he's designed a spare and clever set that works well for the multiple scene changes. The three pillars upstage isolate various playing areas. Their texture changes with the lighting and they contain shelves that appear and disappear according to location – office, restaurant, apartment, park. Of course there's a lovely sunset and cloud effect on the scrim upstage of the park.

Sarah Waghorn's costumes are very good, especially Judy's black cocktail dress and Stan's increasing rumplement. Aymar's sound design is also very good and the music choices excellent.

Director Arthur Milner has staged the play expertly and the pace never flags. I do question the intermission, as with a running time of 85 minutes it's not really needed. The excellent cast, though, whips the pace right back up in Act II. Mr. Milner's staging of the sex scenes is very funny, as is his of one of the oddest deaths I've ever seen onstage. (By the way, this is definitely adult material.) Throughout the comic mayhem Director Milner and his sterling cast never lose sight of the fact that these are three-dimensional people.

"The Burden of Self Awareness" kept me guessing right up to the end as to where it was going. It's a pleasure to see a very good production of a very good play.

On a scale of one to five the GCTC production of "The Burden of Self Awareness" gets four and seven-eighths solar panels.

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