You know you’re in Canada when a crazed U.S. zealot storms Parliament Hill, shoots up the prime minister’s office, and the first thing he hears is, “Is that gun registered?”
Central Alberta Theatre continues its winning streak of plays this season with the cute and clever political comedy Booster McCrane P.M.
The David S. Craig vehicle, which opened Friday at City Centre Stage, is about a lawyer from Veteran, Alta., who rides a series of electoral flukes into the country’s highest office.
To the surprise of everyone this political novice, who writes radio jingles and auctioneers on the side because there’s so little crime in Veteran, becomes Canada’s first-ever non-Liberal, non-Progressive Conservative prime minister.
As the leader of a very minority government (he has a cabinet of one), McCrane, played by Robert Van Der Linden, is smart enough to realize his stint at the top will be brief. But he figures he only needs about three days “to set this country straight” and that’s what he proceeds to do, leaving a turbulent trail in his wake.
Like a longer, gentler version of CBC-TV’s This Hour has 22 Minutes, this comedy, directed by Carole Forhan, pokes fun at Ottawa in general and politicians in particular (including Quebec’s premier, played by Tim Newcomb).
There’s even some self-deprecating humour directed at Canadians. At one point, this nation is referred to as “a country united by doughnut shops,” by the pushy U.S. ambassador (Dennis Moffat), who wants to reroute the Fraser River to California.
McCrane reacts by declaring war on the U.S. to curtail American control of our economy.
The new prime minister also auctions off government securities in a televised telethon to help rebuild the national economy, and pay off the debt.
McCrane’s tactics may seem loopy, but he’s played pretty straight as an unassuming, likable idealist by Van Der Linden. This gives every bizarre thing he does an intriguing air of possibility, as in — what would happen if somebody in Ottawa actually did that?
Forhan has assembled a great cast for this production, including Linden and Albert Azzara, who has the unenviable task of portraying aboriginal chief Joe White Eagle, the minister of everything in McCrane’s one-man cabinet. His chief turns stereotypes that could be offensive on their heads, making White Eagle one of the funniest and most technically savvy characters in the play.
Vicki Dykes is great as Margery Fullbrow, the exasperated clerk of the privy council, who watches in disbelief as McCrane upends every parliamentary rule. (McCrane points out, he doesn’t break rules because that would be un-Canadian).
Nicole Orr is genuine as McCrane’s nicey-nice sweetheart, Crystal Wildrose, who offers the U.S. renegade who storms Parliament Hill a cup of coffee — which seems like a sensible thing to do.
Both Moffat and Newcomb also shine in their roles, but the hilarious Curtis Closson almost steals the show as U.S. Army soldier Frank Crawford. His character’s entrance picks up the play’s pacing considerably by introducing some badly needed dramatic tension and conflict. (You can only laugh so much at monetary fund jokes — give us some action!)
On the technical side of things, staging Booster McCrane, P.M., required a lot of innovations, and the crew surpassed expectations.
Set designer Stuart Reid delivered a spectacular replica of the real wood-panelled P.M.’s office, and technical director William Ladic pulled off professional looking newscasts that are shown on giant TV sets. (That reminds me, kudos also to Robert Beeston for so aptly standing in as the play’s proxy Peter Mansbridge).
Now, if only our country’s real problems could be solved in three days . . .