Sunday, June 5, 2016

Abolishing Christmas (at Coal Mine Theatre)

I was able to bike over to Coal Mine (at 1454 Danforth) and got there twenty minutes before the show started.  The show in question is Michael Mackenzie's Instructions (to Any Future Socialist Government Wishing to Abolish Christmas).  Since they weren't sold out, I was able to get a rush ticket (score!).*  I'm not going to link to the Star review  While it was a positive review, it wasn't a rave like I think the play deserves, and I think the review is too spoiler-y.  I do think/hope that word of mouth is going to build fairly quickly for this play, and if you are interested, book tickets soon (starting here).  It only runs through June 19.

Even the next 2 sentences might have too many SPOILERS

You should see this play if you were somewhat tuned in to the economic collapse of 2008/9 and really want to see a hedge fund manager come to grief and/or you appreciate modern adaptations of the true classics.  It reminded me a lot of Wajdi Mouawad's Scorched (which I thought was shattering and amazing at the same time), though on a less global scale and perhaps slightly less dark or at least with far more humorous dialogue throughout.  Even this comparison may be saying too much.

I'll discuss the play in a bit more detail, while trying to avoid major SPOILERS

The play opens with Jason, the hedge fund manager, taking out his frustrations on a punching bag in his office.  He is not aware Cass has entered.  It becomes apparent that she had some "episode" at work and was sent off for therapy.  What is more interesting is that she was almost non-verbal before (an even more extreme version of the character Dustin Hoffman played in Rain Man) and now she has found a way to communicate her inner thoughts, albeit with a lot of ticks and odd repetitions.  It turns out that some of the repeated phrases carry much more weight after the final revelation of the play.  (And this is a bit of a side issue, but there will probably be some critics who cringe at watching another able-bodied actor playing an autistic savant.  This didn't bother me too much, but the tics could be a bit much at times.)

In any event, Jason tries to enter into a kind of negotiation with her where she will help him get through an important phone call (even the fact she can talk on the phone is considered a huge breakthrough!) with his main banker in exchange for more communication with him about her issues.  I will say that her motives do seem to shift throughout the play, since at one point she seems to relish being valued by Jason and thinks she can salvage the business, but this isn't where she lands at the end.  Perhaps his utter crassness throughout the play just left her completely disillusioned.

While I could certainly buy her facility with numbers,** there is some other point where she points out a subtle legal loophole that may prove to be the fund's undoing.  It would be extremely unlikely for someone who was so heavily into the number-side of things to pick that up or understand the implications, but it wasn't a fatal flaw in the play.  After all, she has been reading up on history to try to understand how events are connected together, starting with Thucydides.  She is certainly trying to expand her area of interest/analysis, though Jason still is only interested in her financial analyses.  (In some ways, this play reminded me a bit of Pi by Aronofsky, though Pi has a better soundtrack...)

The one other thing that I found notable is that Cass kept referencing Back to the Future (apparently Ronald Reagan was a big fan though it probably wasn't literally his favorite movie as Cass said).  I'll take this as a sign to keep going on The Study Group, which riffs just a bit on Back to the Future.  (I'm still trying to work out just how far to push it, but usually the further the better.)

It was a pretty dark play by the end, and I'm not sure I really got my full dose of catharsis, but I would certainly recommend this production.

* This partly, though not entirely, makes up for getting screwed out of tickets for the Hip's last show in Toronto.  It would be nice if the outrage is so sustained that Ontario backtracks and reinstates some of their anti-scalping legislation.  At any rate, I am glad I went and saw them on the Fully Completely tour.  For my tastes, that was probably the better tour to see, though if CBC does broadcast one of the shows on this final tour, I certainly will tune in.

** I don't have anything like this mathematical ability, but I do spend a lot of my time building mathematical models, and you sometimes get a feel for what the data is trying to tell you, and you try to work within certain frameworks to shape the models so that the results are robust and yet the equations feeding the model represent logical connections between the data.  I'm fairly good with the standard logit models up through nested logit models.  I'm not clever enough to construct the models that use latent-class variables or some of the cross-nested logit models.  On the other hand, I do have a good feel for the adjustment factors that then need to be applied to get the models to replicate real-world data during model calibration.  Still, this is only small potatoes compared to what a true mathematical genius can handle.

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