Theatre review: Except In the Unlikely Event of War is complex

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Good theatre can entertain or make you think.  Really good theatre does both.  Sean Devine’s Except in the Unlikely Event of War is really good theatre.

Once again proving himself as a master of political theatre, Vancouver playwright Sean Devine abandons the American politics of his 2011 hit Re:union to take on the politics of fear and, by association, the Harper government in Except in the Unlikely Event of War.

Loosely based on the 1967 bestseller “Report From Iron Mountain” which told of a secret government think tank that concluded war was necessary for governments to stay in power, Devine uses the book, which would later be revealed as a satirical hoax, as a basis to weave his own complex satire.  In a trio of stories, Devine flits between the government think tank, a radio show host who discovers a Chinese submarine has arrived at the shores of the Arctic and a meta-theatrical self-awareness in which the actors rehearse the show itself.

And while it all may sound a little too complicated, thankfully Devine is skilled enough to structure his play into largely logical chunks.  But even when the story devolves as it jumps incessantly between ideas, Devine is the first to acknowledge its complexity during some very funny scenes where his actors acknowledge their own confusion.

Robert Moloney in a scene from Sean Devine's Except in the Unlikely Event of War.

Robert Moloney in a scene from Sean Devine’s Except in the Unlikely Event of War.

Of the three stories being told it is in the meta-theatrical scenes that Devine’s story really shines, helped immensely by Candelario Andrade’s video work and Richard Wolfe’s deft direction that seamlessly moves the action between the behind-the-scenes footage and the live action.  Set designer Yvan Morissette transforms the black-box Roundhouse performance space effectively and lighting designer John Webber helps move the action through its various stories.

There are some terrific performances here too, particularly Robert Moloney who finds such truth and diversity in his fictional characters and sincerity in playing his own caricature.  Devine is equally compelling as the Harper crony bent on manipulating the news as he is poking fun at himself and a hilarious obsession he develops for a fellow actor.  Lucia Frangione may have little stage time, but when she acknowledges that fact in a particularly hilarious film clip it is one of the funniest moments of the show.  Josette Jorge does solid work here as well.

I admit to going to sleep last night feeling somewhat manipulated by some of the playwright’s biases, which is made even more ironic given how much he rails against our equally manipulative political landscape.  But then I woke to a Conservative Party of Canada radio ad designed to plant fear in the minds of Canadian voters, unbelievably two years before the next election.  Sean Devine wins in a landslide.

Except in the Unlikely Event of War

By Sean Devine.  Directed by Richard Wolfe.  A Pi Theatre and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre production.  On stage at the Roundhouse Performance Centre through November 30, 2013. Visit or for tickets and information.

Mark Robins on Google+

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