Press for The Leisure Society 

Leisure Society a morality check, with lots of laughs  

By ELISSA BARNARD - CHRONICLE-HERALD

The drama started before the play on opening night for an indie production of the Quebeçois satire The Leisure Society.

Director Pamela Halstead came out in a dressing gown to announce that lead actress Samantha Wilson had laryngitis and she would play her part.

Barely referring to the script in her hand, Halstead sparkled as Mary, an upwardly mobile woman who has it all except for one thing. Perhaps her soul.

Electric in her misery, acidic in her insults, Mary directs much of her unhappiness at her ineffectual husband, masterfully played by Anthony Black as a baffled, earnest everyman who is startlingly amoral.

Mary and Peter are a proper married couple who have a baby boy and have decided to adopt a Chinese girl because Chinese kids win at piano competitions. They have bought a piano where they hide their cigarettes and alcohol from each other because they have decided to give up smoking and drinking as they embrace lives of hard work and affluence.

On this particular night, Mary and Peter have invited over family friend Mark to officially stop being friends with him. Mark, the divorced husband of one of Mary’s friends, arrives with the nubile, young Paula, his "special friend," and a case of wine.

The evening nosedives spectacularly — and hilariously — as the characters plow through wine, secrets and sexual desires. Classical music played between the short, brightly lit scenes reminds the audience of civilization in high contrast to the savage behaviour of these morally bankrupt characters. The retro furniture recalls a lost era of "family values" as the audience peers down, like scientists or reality TV viewers, at the characters playing out their lives on an askew, Escher-like, black and white, striped floor.

The Leisure Society, by Governor General’s award-winning playwright François Archambault and translated by Bobby Theodore, is wickedly funny particularly in its firstpart as the characters say outrageous things in a perfectly ordinary, social way. The character of Peter is key and Black crafts him beautifully. He is the anti-hero who believes he is on the right path and he seems so sincere and confident telling Paula lazily, "We have a pool so I force myself to go in." In the end he can’t tolerate the gap between perception and reality.

Brian Heighton plays the smarmy, callous Mark with a frightening élan and a marvellous ability to over-state his happiness, so one glimpses the vacant lot his life has become.

Kate Lavender’s Paula, whom the older characters treat as inferior, is the most genuine, innocent and moral character, though who knows for how long. Lavender plays her with a breezy vitality and passionate sensitivity.

There is a lot of smoking of herbal cigarettes in this roughly 90-minute production (without intermission) at the Bus Stop Theatre. Funny and startling, this erotically charged satire ultimately forces viewers to position themselves morally in today’s consumer society.

One assumes Samantha Wilson will give Mary the same charge and edge as Halstead did.

On opening night it was amazing to see a company fly by the seat of its pants, the only pitfall being some awkwardness in the pacing. Production values are high with set design by Katherine Jenkins and Bryan Kenney who also did lighting design and costume design by Jennifer Coe. Black did the sound design which includes the constantly crying baby and other noises heard through a baby monitor positioned on the piano.

THE LEISURE SOCIETY 

Does the concept of “fuck-buddies” shock you? What about binge drinking in pregnant women? Do you find it offensive when people speak of Chinese orphans as if they were some sort of life accessory? Montreal playwright Francois Archambault’s *Leisure Society* has all this and more, but don’t let this keep you away from this spot-on satire. Sure, you may feel a little uncomfortable as the play’s upwardly mobile couple--played perfectly by Samantha Wilson and Anthony Black--fight and fuck and neglect their infant son, but this play is so well written and acted that you’ll be rooting for them to find a way out of their paradoxically rich and impoverished lives. Brian Heighton is a pleasure to watch as the creepy friend and Kate Lavender nails it as the promiscuous free spirit who proves to be the most moral character in the play. Kudos also to Katherine Jenkins Bryan Kenney’s elegant set. The Bus Stop Theatre has never looked so good.

---Kate Watson THE COAST