Review: "1979" at Berkeley Downstairs Theatre

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Joe Szekeres

  • Chief Toronto Critic

Joe who?

For most Canadians, it was a blink of an eye in remembering a naively thirty-nine-year-old Joe Clark’s tenure as the 16th Prime Minister of Canada from June 4, 1979 – March 3, 1980. I was just finishing high school and can recall the turmoil in which our country found itself during this time, but I really had no interest in that political spectrum as all my thoughts were turned to beginning post secondary education.

I wish now that I had paid closer attention to said events as they were comically played out to audience delight and standing ovation in Michael Healey’s superb comedy ‘1979’ now on stage at the Berkeley Street Theatre.

‘1979’ takes place in one evening where Joe Clark, in the dying days of his Progressive Conservative government, awaits the parliamentary vote he knows will topple his government. During the evening, Clark received numerous visits from many people in his office who were either there to prop up support for him or to destroy his morale through suspicions and mistrust.

And in the skillful hands of Director Miles Potter, this extraordinarily terrific three person cast skewers and lampoons moments from the script with an acerbic and satirical biting edge that had me in continuous laughter. Wonderful live work to watch and to hear.

Philip Riccio wittily conveys a stubborn side of Joe Clark not seen by the general public. I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot but his meeting with Christopher Hunt’s Pierre Trudeau magnificently shows this stubborn character trait.  I loved the brown corduroy suit which became one of Clark’s trademarks. His meeting with perfectly coiffed and designer clad wife Maureen McTeer (a vibrant Jamie Konchak) suggested a rather randy ‘love nest’ office rendezvous that might have occurred more than once.

Ms. Konchak and Christopher Hunt play numerous characters who visited Mr. Clark on this so-called fateful evening. One of the highlights for me (and it appeared the audience) was the arrival of Pierre Elliott Trudeau in the PMO. Mr. Hunt is superb as the snobbish, priggish and self-righteous father of our current prime minister. Mr. Hunt’s portrayal of a possibly foul-mouthed John Crosbie kept the laughter high as Mr. Riccio (as Joe Clark) kept the music volume turned up to drown out Crosbie’s histrionics. Along with her performance as Clark’s wife, Ms. Konchak shines as a bombastic prime minister in waiting Brian Mulroney and a young and rather dull Stephen Harper.

Along with the nicely timed pacing of the story, Scott Reid’s projection design to refresh our memories of what historically occurred at specific times were a hoot to read. Steve Lucas’ set design of dark panelled wood was an effective contrast to the hilarity ensuing in each of the scenes.

Final Comments: A must-see specially to watch three performers who are in total control of crazy and ingenious synchronicity of emotions.

‘1979’ runs 90 minutes with no intermission.

Performances continue to January 27, 2019 at Toronto’s Berkeley Downstairs Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street.  For tickets please visit bit.ly/1979Toronto or telephone 416-368-3110.

Cast: Philip Riccio as Joe Clark, Christopher Hunt as Actor A and Jamie Konchak as Actor B.

Producers: Michael Healey, Marcie Januska, Miles Potter; Director: Miles Potter; Set Design: Steve Lucas; Lighting Design: Nick Blais; Costume Design: Jennifer Lee Arsenault; Sound Design: Thomas Geddes; Projection Design: Scott Reid