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Theatre that great Greek invention of many milleniums ago is something humans love because we love being told a story and if it is a good one it enters into our psyche. The original theatre building can be seen today in Athens at the foot of the Acropolis, aptly named the theatre of Dionysos.

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Theatre of Dionysos as it was in Antiquity

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The theatre today, a glorious ruin but still beautiful to behold, here seen from the top of the walls on the Acropolis.

We have Season tickets to the National Arts Centre theatre subscription and to the Great Canadian Theatre Company on Wellington Street West. We do enjoy the plays they present and to me a good theatre experience is when you come out at the end of the play in a different mood, one where you reflect on what you have seen. It is not just a big laugh or being entertained, theatre has to go beyond that. I much prefer more modern plays than Shakespeare who leaves me cold and indifferent or plays by Oscar Wilde which are very clever and well written but now, to me anyway, belong to a distant past, a world that has vanished. Plays by Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw or Michel Tremblay the great Canadian playwright resonate more with me because it is more contemporary.

Last night we saw the last play of the current Season of GCTC entitled The Public Servant by Jennifer Brewin with help from Haley McGee, Sarah McVie and Amy Rutherford. This is a collective effort, a modern play, it speaks directly to its audience, this being Ottawa the National Capital and seat of the Federal Government. In the last 9 years the face of Official Ottawa has been transformed through massive cuts and downsizing of tens of thousands of jobs within the Federal bureaucracy, including demolition of government Office complex. Programs have not been slashed they still exist, though budgets remain dormant, unspent and programs are on life support, in other words the public pay but get very little in return, leading to complaints and demonstrations and the politicians play the blame game for the cuts they implemented by blaming the lazy, incompetent Public Service.

The play also spoke of how the Federal Public Service has been transformed since 1980, one character Cynthia who is a senior manager and someone we are told was back then a Mandarin or advisor to the Prime Minister decides to retire after 38 years of service in disgust. She says we no longer advise nor write policy, we push paper now. The big guy (the Prime Minister) points to the problem and tells you what the solution will be. His political staff (the twenty-something) also known as the short pants crowd control everything. The audience could relate to that statement, many are former or current Public Servants.

Another character in the play Madge is the young and new employee, who is full of optimism, highly educated with stars in her eyes. She loves her job and she loves serving Canadians. The play takes place over a period of 10 years, at the end Cynthia the Senior Manager has retired, and Madge because of the cuts is offered 2 or 3 options, H.R. is not clear about that, she is told you can go back to school, why should I, says Madge I have a Master’s degree, H.R. responds, well if you resign it would be so much easier for us. She is also offered to compete for her own job with two other people but even if she is successful, her pay and benefits will be significantly cut.

The third character is the middle-manager Lois, who does Weight Watchers like so many women in the Government, eating carrot sticks at lunch, but cheating on the weekend with all kinds of indulgences. She is divorced, has 2 teenage kids, and is going out with a Soldier named Roger, stationed at Petawawa, the big military base outside of Ottawa.

What happens to her is not clear, she simply disappears from the play at some point. Though not uncommon, I saw people leave one day or disappear from the Office and no one knew what had happened to them.

I found this play very upsetting and not funny at all, though it was billed as a Comedy. Maybe the lesson was that Life is a Comedy, certainly is when you work in the Government. The characters in the play were true to life and the office situations quite real. The play was written from testimony and interviews given by present and past Public Servants and the writers got it bang on.

At the end of the play Madge who has decide to simply leave government service instead of being humiliated with a silly package of worthless options, another true situation, reads out what the audience have written in answer to a question put to us before the play. The question was ”What is the job you value the most” strangely enough many in the audience wrote Teacher. Given the current crisis in Education in Canada where teachers have been turned into babysitters for absentee parents, one wonders.

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