Years ago, I was in a writing course and the instructor said, "Don't write about money. Nobody cares about money." I sat there and thought, "What planet are you from?"
Sorry lady. Everybody cares about money.
Certainly, Canadian playwright Michael Mackenzie cares about money. In INSTRUCTIONS... an intense two-hander, he explores complex notions of trust, value and relationship during a global stock market collapse. Most disturbingly, he uses the event to consider the destructive impact of the greed and self-absorption of a broad swath of the "me first" boomer generation on its children.
Mackenzie's tragedy is set on the eve of of the cataclysmic market "correction" of 2008.
Cass, an emotionally fragile young woman who seems to have Asberger's syndrome, returns to work for her boss, Jason, after months away. Jason is a hedge fund manager, old enough to be her father. It's around four in the morning. He's in his office, in his underwear, beating the crap out of a punching bag. He's a bit surprised and somewhat nervous to see her. Cass had a breakdown and has been in treatment and therapy, after an "incident" at work that involved him, somehow. On the advice of her therapist, she's come to speak to him about the incident. On the advice of his lawyers, he's avoiding the subject of "the incident" like the plague. He wants her to use her intelligence to protect his massive wealth from encroaching disaster.
Diana Bentley, twitching and fluttering, brings the brilliant, awkward, and damaged Cass vividly to life. She truly is Cassandra: truthful, intense, whip-smart, and delivering a message her overlord doesn't want to hear.. Cass knows this Jason has fleeced people. His tottering hedge fund is a morass of bad debt, questionable math, and shareholder value built on human atrocity.
Ted Dykstra's is superb as Jason, a man who vacillates between being a suave arch manipulator, and a bitter, resentful, mid-life crisis mess. Dykstra's Jason is a man so deeply immersed in half-truths and fallacies that he's come to believe his own lies.
Steve Lucas' set and lighting are simple, but effective. The choice of painting above the desk is a particularly nice touch. David Storch's excellent direction makes both the play's dense array of ideas, and the shifts in dynamics between Cass and Jason clear and fluid.The harrowing conclusion is a sucker-punch.
"INSTRUCTIONS..." has been widely produced in French-language theatres in Canada, but only once in English, and that was in Montreal, in a co-production between Crow's Theatre and the Centaur.
Perhaps taking on Bay Street is still a bit too seditious for most Toronto theatres. It's tough to bite the hand that feeds you. Coalmine has mounted a compelling and very well-acted production of an intelligent and challenging play. It's well worth checking out.
INSTRUCTIONS TO ANY FUTURE SOCIALIST GOVERNMENT WISHING TO ABOLISH CHRISTMAS by Michael Mackenzie continues at the Coalmine Theatre at 7:30 PM from Tuesday through Sunday until June 19th. 1454 Danforth Avenue (near Pape Station) For tickets and information: http://www.coalminetheatre.com