Written by Canadian Playwright and actor Michael Healey, Generous is a compilation of four short plays each set in a world of cutthroat power that together create a bigger whole.
The show opens in Parliament where an elected minority frantically tries to avoid facing a no confidence vote and is interrupted by a double murder in progress. The hilarity of Katie Ryerson’s Heritage Minister standing there as they implode, bleeding out from a stomach wound for minutes before anybody notices, sets the stage for the rest of the play. From there it moves into the world of big business with a ruthless sociopath tired of having to say the politically correct thing – “our company is doing everything it can for the environment” – when she would rather just be honest – “we don’t care about the environment and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.” And then moving to a high profile judge whose one night stand becomes way more than she bargained for. One of the common themes in Generous is questioning why these larger than life figures are just so darned mockable.
There’s a line in the play, in reference to people who go (or come) to Ottawa to become politicians: “People become ridiculous there.”
That pretty well sums up Generous itself, really. The characters, stylized with a very heightened sense of personality, are pretty ridiculous. This does two things that will decide if you should see Generous.
First, it greatly supports the text and the comedy. Generous is a clever, funny, well-written script that hides some thought-provoking social commentary amidst its many laughs. With the scenes playing as contained sketches, Generous feels like The West Wing meets Saturday Night Live. It’s meant to be kind of ridiculous in that context, and so there are a lot of pretty hilarious moments.
On the other hand, the characters never feel like real people. Quirky and clever supplant actual human beings. We’re never clearly presented what they want or are shown why we should care about any of them. As an example, there’s a bit of dark history and interesting morality play that comes up in the later part of the play that might be poignant if we had any investment (be it like or dislike or anywhere in between) in these characters as humans. As is, it just came off as flat. So while a very funny play, it just left me a little wanting afterwards.
The thing that keeps Generous on track is that the entire cast – including Kristina Watt (whose turn as PM in the first scene is to die for), Marion Day, Drew Moore, Matt Cassidy, Adam Pierre, and Katie Ryerson – under the direction of Eric Coates is sharp. Meaning both that they’re sharply dressed (this show has superb production design all round) and that they are completely on point. They do fantastic work keeping some reality in their characters and making them slightly more than the two-dimensional cutouts it seems they’re intended to be. It’s thanks to their talent that ridiculous feels like a style and an embraced choice – and makes Generous funny – instead of being… simply ridiculous.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d like to know what you think. Did you find the characters hard to accept as real people? Did you laugh? Did you dislike the chicken scene as much as I did? Join the discussion in the comments below.