Review: ‘The Last Liberal’

Considering that "The Last Liberal" was commissioned two years ago, it is an amazingly timely look at politics in action -- just when it seems the current Canadian federal government is ready to make any deal to hold on to power.

Principles are fine unless you stand by them too rigidly. Especially for those who accept that politics is the art of the possible, idealism is for those aspiring to office, not for those holding power. And if a family crisis or a job opportunity forces a choice between principle and practicality, how often does principle win out? Considering that “The Last Liberal” was commissioned two years ago, it is an amazingly timely look at politics in action — just when it seems the current Canadian federal government is ready to make any deal to hold on to power.

For newly minted education minister Ron Bloom (Richard Waugh) the deal is to solve his family problem. His teenage son, Marc (David Coomber), is pushing drugs and trouble is escalating on the home front. Tough love in the form of a private school seems to be the answer. But Minister Bloom has been very public about his strong opposition to funding private schools.

Never mind that, says his wife, Sara (Maureen Smith). The “shift” in viewpoint is understandable. So, apparently, is seeking help from private school group lobbyist Sam Grearson (Michael Mancini) to move Marc up the waiting list.

Added layers to the principle/personal conflict are the gay lobbyist’s working for the anti-gay private school association and the minister’s assistant from the wrong side of the tracks standing so firm on the public education principle that she is ready to bring down her boss.

The debate in “The Last Liberal” focuses on compromising principles, but it still puts people first. In this engaging and entertaining play, it is easy to relate to a parent who simply does what he must to help his child or a man who takes an unpalatable job because he needs the money.

Playwright Dave Carley has created believable, rounded male characters and is well served by all four actors, particularly Waugh as the man at the center of the political controversy.

He is less successful with the vision of the two women in the show, although Terry Tweed’s strong performance in the key role of the executive assistant overcomes the relative thinness of the character. However, the combination of a one-note character and Smith’s frenetic presentation of Sara gives a jagged tone that periodically breaks the flow.

And, because the format is a series of short scenes in different locations — more suited for television than a small stage — director Charles McFarland is already facing a major challenge in maintaining the fluidity.

Even so, “The Last Liberal,” which may not be in its final version, is a play with a good story to tell.

The Last Liberal

Great Canadian Theater Company, Ottawa; 250 Seats;C$32 ($25) Top

Production

A Great Canadian Theater Company presentation of a drama in two acts by Dave Carley. Directed by Charles McFarland.

Creative

Sets, costumes, lighting, Stephen Degenstein; sound, Jon Carter; production stage manager, Shanna Laviolette. Opened, reviewed April 27, 2005. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

Ron Bloom - Richard Waugh Barbara Rankin - Terry Tweed Sara Munro Bloom - Maureen Smith Sam Grearson - Michael Mancini Marc Bloom - David Coomber Zimran Ventur - Hamza Adam
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