The oil industry on trial for crimes against humanity in the gripping, intimate Athabasca

David S. Craig & Richard Greenblatt. Set & costume design by Anahita Dehbonehie. Lighting design by Jennifer Lennon. Photo by Samantha Gaetz.

 

Convergence Theatre presents the world premiere of Athabasca, created and performed by David S. Craig and Richard Greenblatt, and directed by Aaron Willis, assisted by Keshia Palm (who also appears as Huan, the Executive Assistant). A gripping two-hander, the audience gets an intimate, fly-on-the-wall perspective as a journalist and an oil industry executive go head-to-head over the environmental and human tolls of fossil fuel production and use. Part of the Toronto Fringe’s Next Stage Theatre Festival, it’s running at 77 Mowat Avenue, Toronto (a Toronto Carpet Factory space), the first site-specific production in the history of the fest.

Oil industry senior executive and gifted lobbyist/spin doctor Tom (David S. Craig) is being golden parachuted out of his position at Sol Oil, a Fort McMurray-based company that’s been touting the benefits its “green” oil production. It’s his last day at the office, and as he pushes back against the ridiculously prohibitive terms of his exit/non-disclosure agreement, he’s visited by Max (Richard Greenblatt), a journalist from The Outdoorsman, who’s there to do a profile piece interview.

Max’s line of questioning, prescribed by Tom’s successor, goes off script and the true nature of his visit is revealed. Max is an environmental activist, driven to extreme measures; and he proceeds to put Tom on trial as a proxy for the oil industry and its crimes against humanity and the environment. The heated debate that follows forces personal and professional revelations and confessions from both men. Will Tom be able to finesse his way out of this and talk Max out of his end game? Will Max realize that targeting one executive and one oil company won’t stop the oil industry’s work—or the public’s appetite for fossil fuels?

Outstanding work from Craig and Greenblatt in this intense, insightful, darkly funny and poignant two-hander—keeping us at the edge of our seats, guessing what these two characters will do next. Craig’s performance as Tom is the picture-perfect embodiment of the slick, smooth talking senior public affairs executive. Flippant, entitled and self-interested, and eloquent in his bullshittery, Tom is forced to really pay attention to the environmental and health impacts of the oil industry—and, more critically, answer for his and the industry’s actions. Greenblatt does a remarkable balancing act with Max, rounding out the desperate nature of Max’s mission with thoughtful, intelligent argument. Armed with an arsenal of facts, figures and pointed questions to put Tom on the hot seat, Max isn’t a bad guy; he’s mad as hell and doesn’t want to take it anymore.

Both Tom and Max present good, solid—although conflicting—points of view. It’s a complex issue with no easy answers. The only thing for certain is that the fragile balance between the economic and environmental impacts of the fuels we produce and use is on all of us.

Athabasca continues at 77 Mowat Avenue until January 20 every night at 7:30 pm except for no show tonight (January 15); good signage and production folks will guide your way. At this point, the run is sold out—so if you don’t already have tix and want to take a chance at the door, best to get there early.

The ABCs of cut-throat real estate in the darkly funny, testosterone-fuelled Glengarry Glen Ross

Derek Perks, Chris Coculuzzi & Frank De Francesco in Glengarry Glen Ross—photo by David Fitzpatrick

 

Amicus Productions wraps its 2016-17 season with its production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, directed by Harvey Levkoe; and opening last night at the Papermill Theatre at Todmorden Mills.

Set in Chicago in the 1980s, Glengarry Glen Ross still resonates today with its condemnation of American business and the testosterone-filled culture that runs it. In a world where you eat what you kill, men are driven to desperate measures to survive, and thrive in a twisted hierarchy of “real men” and competition for big-ticket prizes.

The story opens at the local Chinese restaurant, where we get a lay of the land and a taste of its inhabitants. Veteran salesman Shelly “The Machine” Levine (Daryn DeWalt) has been in a serious slump and makes a desperate plea to office manager John Williamson (Chris Coculuzzi) to get some prime leads. The outraged Dave Moss (Neil Hicks) vents to his side-kick co-worker George Aaronow (Jerrold Karch), hatching a plan to take the good leads by force and put them to use for their own benefit. And the slick Richard Roma (Derek Perks) spots a mark in the shy, unassuming James Lingk (Abbas Hussain).

With Act Two opening on their pillaged office, Detective Baylen (Frank De Francesco) has taken up residence, interviewing each man one by one. Shelly seems to have emerged from his slump – and big time. And Roma is celebrating record sales, earning him a car. That all changes when a sheepish James arrives, putting that deal in jeopardy. Loyalties are tested and stand-offs get ferocious as things go to hell, and we get closer to discovering who broke in and stole the leads.

Nice work from the entire cast in this intense, hot-tempered and darkly funny Mamet classic. Stand-outs include DeWalt, who finds a great balance between flop-sweat desperation and cocky showmanship as Shelly Levine; it’s a roller coaster of extreme highs and lows as Shelly fights for his livelihood, vacillating between winning and losing. Perks is a charming scoundrel as Roma; a suave and seductive player, and a sharp marksman, Roma is nevertheless a thoughtful philosopher and a loyal guy—crediting Levine as his mentor. Just don’t get on his bad side.

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Neil Hicks, Daryn DeWalt & Derek Perks in Glengarry Glen Ross—photo by David Fitzpatrick

Coculuzzi gives us an icy, detached Williamson, who’s a bit of a cypher; the company ‘Yes man,’ Williamson’s a classic case of management who knows zero about the work he’s managing—and who deeply enjoys the withholding and proffering of power. And Karch gives a compellingly understated and comic performance as George Aaronow; a quiet, sweet guy, Aaronow may have been duped by Moss, but he knows how to look after himself.

Lie, cheat, steal. The ABCs of cut-throat real estate in the darkly funny, testosterone-fuelled Glengarry Glen Ross.

Glengarry Glen Ross continues at the Papermill Theatre until May 6; check here for ticket purchase/info or call 416-860-6176.

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