'The Master Plan' by Michael Healey. Based on SIDEWAYS: THE CITY GOOGLE COULDN'T BUY by Josh O'Kane
Now onstage at Crow's Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto
‘The Master Plan’ is why we go to the theatre. Glorious. Stellar.
Happy Anniversary, Crow’s.
And what a celebratory year ahead, which begins with the premiere of Michael Healey’s ‘The Master Plan.’
A jagged roller coaster ride of heated, intense dialogue of accusations and innuendos flung back and forth, Healey’s furious script is chock full of detailed information. It’s not only what is said but the implication behind the words that make this production one where you’ll have to pay close attention because it’s delivered at lightning speed.
‘The Master Plan’ becomes a biting satirical look at what was meant to become an innovative experiment in building a sustainable Toronto waterfront neighbourhood that would be called ‘Quayside’. The Crow’s press release calls it, ‘a messy affair between Sidewalks Labs and Waterfront Toronto’. The play is based on Globe and Mail journalist Josh O’Kane’s ‘Sideways: The City Google Couldn’t Buy’. America-based Sidewalk Labs (part of Google) funded just over $1 million dollars for: “the construction of this new model of inclusive urban development along Toronto’s eastern waterfront. This model would strive for the highest levels of sustainability, economic opportunity, housing affordability and new mobility.” (sidewalk labs.com)
What comes to mind in knowing Sidewalk Labs is a subsidiary of Google and American-based? The money, of course. Who profits from this deal? Is it tech giant Google? Is the profit equitably shared? Additionally, where’s the Canadian control beyond merely setting this neighbourhood in Toronto?
Even with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval in 2017, this project failed. Miserably.
Issues surrounding digital surveillance and privacy among those living in this development became of grave concern. Anyone could be pictured twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, without written or verbal consent.
The often distraught and frantic boardroom discussions about the building of this waterfront become playwright Healey’s focus and concern.
It’s a theatre in a round setting with Joshua Quinlan’s and Kimberly Purtell’s clever staging in full array. Quinlan has created a corporate boardroom environment, and tables smack dab in the middle. Purtell’s overhead lighting on top of the tables with its dusky overhead lights strongly resembles a boxing ring. The actors slowly appear on the stage about 20 minutes before the performance and chat as their characters with the audience. I went down to centre stage where actor Peter Fernandes discussed what had happened a few years ago at the waterfront. The other actors milled about chatting with audience members and gauging what they knew about this waterfront development a few years ago. Video Designer Amelia Scott projects news articles (The Globe and Mail, Forbes magazine) throughout the performance that reflect what was happening at the time.
Chris Abraham directs the production with an assured hand. At times, Healey’s script is uproariously hilarious with its sometimes-vicious takes and quips. At the beginning of the play, we're told the events are fictitious. After intermission, the audience's laughter is released upon seeing the words ‘Still fictitious’ projected. The references to Frances Nunziata and Kathleen Wynne are two noteworthy, perfectly placed comic moments.
Yanna McIntosh perfectly mimics John Tory’s horrible-sounding speaking of the French language. Green-clad Peter Fernandes’ Tree is a riot. At other times, a tremendous sense of dread envelopes the events. As Meg Davis (daughter of the late PC Ontario Premier Bill Davis), Philippa Domville’s breaking of pencils and then face-planting into a cake is at first initially funny. However, I felt an incredible sense of dread in watching her keep doing it. Davis was one of the individuals who fearlessly believed in this project. It’s alarming to think of how she must have felt with all the work done up to this point, and it comes crashing down in front of her.
The ensemble cast remains extraordinarily stellar throughout. With a quick costume change, often within a matter of seconds, the actors become someone else.
Another masterclass in acting performances from everyone.
Mike Shara is a towering, blustery, vain Dan Doctoroff, American CEO of Sidewalks Lab. He struts vainly about the stage, cocksure that what he is doing is the right thing and the only way to do it. He bangs the table with incredible force to make his point and to get what he wants. He doesn’t. Sometimes narrator Peter Fernades provides much of the laughter needed throughout as Tree, especially when it becomes clear why he is called this name.
As Waterfront Toronto CEO Will Fleissig, Ben Carlson provides as much fiery temper as Shara does. There are moments on Carlson’s face when the irritability of the situation desperately gets to Fleissig. However, Carlson’s turn as the Fire Chief, who at one point has eyes for an on-stage cake, effectively contrasts with the intensity of that of Fleissig. The final ‘monologue’ of the play delivered by Christopher Allen is delivered with natural credibility with the hope that perhaps the involved corporations might or could have some prominence going forward.
Tara Nicodemo as Kristina Verner and Philippa Domville as Meg Davis leave an indelible impression near the end of the performance. As the Waterfront executives, these ladies are the two who seem to ‘pick up the pieces’ in their belief of this project even while Doctoroff is annoyed at the continual rewriting of the terms of the agreement for them. As I write this article the next day, I can still picture Nicodemo and Domville working away at their laptops as the lights come down.
Final Comments: I was exhausted as I left the theatre after watching this intensely focused performance. I’m not a Torontonian (I only like to visit), but seeing this production makes me wonder about our future involvement with tech giants and what this could mean for all of us.
Scary thought to consider, but damn it makes for good theatre.
‘The Master Plan’ is good theatre. I hear it’s been extended to October 8.
Go see it.
Running time: approximately two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission.
‘The Master Plan’ runs until October 8 at Streetcar/Crow’s Theatre in the Guloien Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto. For tickets, call the Box Office at (647) 341-7390 or visit www.crowstheatre.com
CROW’S THEATRE PRESENTS THE WORLD PREMIERE OF
‘THE MASTER PLAN’ by Michael Healey
Based on ‘Sideways: The City Google Couldn’t Buy’ by Josh O’Kane
Directed by Chris Abraham
Sets and Props Designer: Joshua Quinlan
Costume Designer: Ming Wong
Lighting Designer: Kimberly Purtell
Sound Designer: Thomas Ryder Payne
Video Designer: Amelia Scott
Stage Manager: Jennifer Parr
Performers: Christophe Allen, Ben Carlson, Philippa Domville, Peter Fernandes, Tara Nicodermo, Yanna McIntosh, Mike Shara