It's no surprise that opening night of Messenger at the Neptune Studio brought out a huge cross-section of Halifax's theatre greats and political progressives. After all, the play was written by award-winning playwright and former MP Wendy Lill. Her credentials put her in the perfect position to deliver both a beautifully written family drama and a stark indictment of the politics of power.
Messenger begins in the present day but flashes back to happenings in 1990 when the world was first awakening to the reality of climate change. The story is told through the eyes of Katharine Stockman (Burgandy Code), the wife of an impassioned, newly minted minister of environment named Thomas Stockman (Hugh Thompson). With the prime minister's blessing, Thomas is poised to reveal Canada's bold plan to lead the war on climate change. Unfortunately, when the political realities of alienating Big Oil are examined in the cold light of day, Thomas is left as a lone voice in the wilderness.
Lill has written complex characters, and the four members of the strong cast mine their depths: Katharine is someone who loves with her eyes wide open. Code gives a warm, grounded performance as a woman who recognizes her husband's faults and amplifies his strengths, all the while maintaining her own sense of self; Thomas is a charismatic visionary, but there is a dark side to this gift. Thompson's portrayal beautifully captures his infectious optimism and destructive obsessiveness. In supporting roles, Jeff Schwager shines as a burned-out journalist, and John Dartt, who plays Thomas's brother and the PM's chief-of-staff, is utterly believable as this complicated and controlling man.
Lill was inspired by Ibsen's Enemy of the People, but familiarity with that play, which also deals with an environmental crisis and one man's fight against the establishment, is not a prerequisite for enjoying Messenger. In fact, this play will engage anyone who likes well-written, well-acted drama. But more importantly, it sounds a clarion call for citizens to examine the mistakes of the past, and to insist on action in the present.
Thursday-Friday, November 5-6, 8pm Saturday-Sunday, November 7-8, 2pm & 8pm
Neptune Studio Theatre, 1593 Argyle Street