‘Imaginative solutions for impossible scenarios.’ The Wrong People Have Money at Shadow Theatre, a review

Elena Porter, Andrea House, Julien Arnold, Steven Greenfield in The Wrong People Have Monday, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“In this class,” says star professor Martin Delancey of York University in The Wrong People Have Money, “we’re going to explore the impossible. We’re going to ‘tether the moon’.”

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It’s a course, standing room only, in creative thinking, in devising “imaginative solutions for impossible scenarios.” And one of those is moving Greenland, lock stock and iceberg, a couple of thousand miles south in the Atlantic Ocean.  

In Reed McColm’s comedy, launching the Shadow Theatre at the Varscona in a John Hudson production, an international investment consortium with deep pockets, NexThought, takes the good professor at his word. In an assignment that’s pure Delancey, a mysterious and glamorous Mme d’Aulnoy challenges him to investigate the feasibility of a Greenland relocation to somewhere nicer, greener, more habitable (and hence profitable). Actually, the greening of Greenland is probably already in progress, thanks to global warming, but never mind…. 

Anyhow, Mme d’Aulnoy pays Professor Delancey handsomely “to explore the question.” As she says, “when you are funded you are credible.” That’s the proposition on which McColm’s satire is built. 

What starts in the alluring pedagogical idea of putting human creativity up against probability — “every daring progression in history began as a crazy idea” — gets fast-tracked by money. It starts in the (pretty much instant) co-opting  of academia, amusing in itself. Then interest expands exponentially on the global stage. International media, scientists, pop-culture gurus, late-night comics, Christian churches, big oil, Oprah, whole countries … everyone wants a slice of the action. Economic summits, innovation conferences, meet-and-greets in Dakar, ensue, and Delancey is awash in interviews.

It’s only well into the launch of the sensation that someone on Delancey’s team pauses to say, with a certain incredulity, “there are people in Greenland?” Who knew? 

The fun is in the comic performances. A cast of five is led by Julien Arnold, perfectly professorial as Professor Delancey. He positively exudes academia, in all its pomposity, practised geniality and noblesse oblige. After an introduction by one of his two enablers, teaching assistant/class advisor Conrad (nailed amusingly by Steven Greenfield), Delancey’s first entrance, to us students in the class, is a practised and lordly combination of anecdotes, stories about improbable scientific achievement, timed performance gestures, and the obligatory professorial touching of the tortoiseshell glasses.

Julien Arnold, Steven Greenfield, Andrea House, Linda Grass in The Wrong People Have Money, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography

His assistant and go-fer Annie is played by Andrea House, all droll pseudo-deference, confidential eye-rolls and whispered asides. She knows more about the world, and her boss, than the people around her: “you never heard of Wikipedia?” Annie and Conrad, Delancey’s roadies so to speak, are charged with ensuring that no student ever gets to actually meet him in person. Clearly, he’s used to student adulation, from afar. “He doesn’t take walk-in’s,” says Conrad when Mme d’Aulnoy (Linda Grass in slinky red lipstick mode with an unidentifiably international accent) approaches him after a class. 

Interestingly, the only character who wonders about the ethics of just taking an autonomous country “with real people in it” and moving it is a lawyer, Sutton, convincingly played by Elena Porter. 

The seduction of Delancey by the dual prospect of big money and female glamour happens so fast you’ll wonder if you blinked and missed it. So much for lofty academic perspective when money is involved, I guess. Anyhow, suddenly the professor is in an imperious frenzy, bombarding Conrad, Annie, and Sutton with orders. Darrin Hagen’s sound score overlays human breath over exotic tracks.

Steven Greenfield, Andrea House, Elena Porter in The Wrong People Have Money, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

The most broadly comic performances, sketch-worthy and detachable, are from House and Greenfield as they populate a mythical “Greenland” (“the Land of Great Length”) cartoon-style. This is an amiably scatty sort of play. Greenfield beams beatifically as the Minister of Fishing, surprised to be visited by a human and not a goat. House is the morose Minister of International Relations and Tourism (there isn’t any).

She is seething with anti-Canadian resentment, in a show-stopping rant, that includes such sacred Canadiana as curling and the CBC. “You Canadians. You think everyone likes you. Always wearing a maple leaf on your lapel flaunting yourself. ‘Look, I’m from a country with trees. Nyah Nyah’.” Later House plays an unstoppably pushy American presidential spokesperson on an interview show, who constantly interrupts to note that America, and The President, have already thought of everything smart.

CM Zuby’s bi-level design doesn’t exactly reek of global consortium money, in truth, but serviceably takes the action from classroom to well-heeled high-rise Toronto to the mythical Greenland of the play. Leona Brausen’s costumes are genuinely amusing — the taupe fashion lexicon of academia, fur ear flaps, the elegant evening wear of Mme d’Aulnoy. I particularly enjoyed Annie’s auburn wedge hair, solid as a pyramid. 

The escalations of the comedy are calibrated to the deceptions and corruptions of money, as the title suggests, rather than human ingenuity. So the ending got away from me, I think. But there’s fun to be had in watching actors rise to the lure of peopling a multi-national trend.

Speaking of tethering the moon, might Canada be moved a little farther from the U.S.? Sounds impossible, I know, but…. “Listen to everything after the ‘but’,” as Professor Delancey tells us.

Have you seen 12thnight’s interview with playwright Reed McColm? Check it out here.

REVIEW

The Wrong People Have Money

Theatre: Shadow

Written by: Reed McColm

Starring: Julien Arnold, Linda Grass, Andrea House, Steven Greenfield, Elena Porter

Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.

Running: Oct. 20 through Nov. 6

Tickets: 780-434-5564 shadowtheatre.org

 

 

 

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