Except in the Unlikely Event of War

Robert Moloney and Josette Jorge Credit: Tim Matheson
Robert Moloney and Josette Jorge
Credit: Tim Matheson

At the Roundhouse Performance Centre until November 30

Posted November 22, 2013

“What we need is a war.” We hear it said but no one ever really means it. However, in Except in the Unlikely Event of War, a group of think-tank scientists attending a 1965 summit meeting in Resolute Bay, NWT, agree that, contrary to public opinion, “the organizing principle of society is war, not peace.” And later in the play, a nasty Neo-Conservative claims that starting a war is a simple three-step procedure beginning with, “manufacture it”.

In this world première of Sean Devine’s play there are several time frames all operating at once and there’s multi-casting, too, so it’s easy to get lost. And I did, occasionally. But I was so entertained and intrigued by the possible/probable scenarios Devine creates, that being lost was invigorating.

Billed as a satire, the play flirts with agit-prop and that’s okay because both Except in the Unlikely Event of War and Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine get it right: there’s big money to be made in wartime. If wars don’t happen naturally, someone will manufacture them; just follow the money.

Devine’s play begins in 1965 before it leapfrogs forward to 2015 and a Resolute Bay radio station and host Tommy Bane (Robert Moloney). Rumours of a large unidentified object lurking under Canadian Arctic waters are spreading. It could be a Chinese nuclear attack submarine. Or it could be that the Canadian public is being played.

Lucia Frangione Credit: Tim Matheson
Lucia Frangione
Credit: Tim Matheson

Another layer in the play is the meta-theatrical one in which real time director Richard Wolfe auditions actor Moloney who says he has given up some real money to do this show. We follow Wolfe (as himself), Moloney, Lucia Frangione, Josette Jorge and Sean Devine (yes, he’s in there, too, playing himself – the playwright – as well as the bad guy). We see video clips of rehearsals with the actors getting frustrated, improvising, telling Devine to back off and, in the case of Frangione, complaining she’s not getting enough exposure in this play. The meta-theatrics are messy and funny – and some of it is probably true!

In short: there’s a lot going on.

But it’s disturbingly possible that the rich continental shelf of the Arctic – claimed by Canada, Russia, the US, Norway and Denmark – could erupt into a full-scale dispute. Throw in rumours of an armed Chinese submarine, and the possibility that the Canadian Arctic could be the next arena of war doesn’t seem so farfetched.

Produced by pi theatre and Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Theatre, this is a very slick production. Yvan Morissette’s set is multi-levelled, military grey-on-grey with a large video screen stage left on which video designer Candelario Andrade projects the rehearsal scenes and backstage video clips that make for most of the laughs. All five actors keep all the balls in the air although in Act 2, Devine overplays the out-of-control, right wing manipulator and undercuts a certain kind of ‘reality’ that he has created.

The inspiration for Except in the Unlikely Event of War is Leonard C. Lewin’s non-fiction book Report From Iron Mountain which was, initially, taken for truth and on the New York Times’ bestseller list before Lewin confessed it was all a hoax.

Satire or agit-prop? From Devine’s Playwright’s Note: “There is an ideological movement within the Conservative Party that goes beyond libertarian politics, beyond fiscal conservatism. It’s all about control . . . Turf them out in 2015.”

Is Devine trying to open our eyes, provoke us into action or entertain us? Yes, yes and yes. Very smart guy.

Josette Jorge, Robert Moloney and Sean Devine Credit: Tim Matheson
Josette Jorge, Robert Moloney and Sean Devine
Credit: Tim Matheson