REVIEW: Department of Common Sense

Below is Andrea Nemetz‘ review of The Department Of Common Sense from the performance at the Liverpool International Theatre Festival. Sorry it took so long for me to post it up here. You can read the entire article on The Chronicle Herald’s website.

Everyone has had that experience, running bang up against some rule that makes no sense, a rule seemingly only designed to put a person through endless circles of bureaucratic hell, made worse by the officious civil servant who won’t listen to reason and mindlessly drones that he doesn’t make the rules, just enforces them.

First-time playwright Ryan Van Horne of Halifax mines that bureaucratic ridiculousness to create laugh-out-loud silliness in The Department of Common Sense.

An audience hit in its Atlantic Fringe Festival debut last September, The Department of Common Sense arrived at the Liverpool International Theatre Festival on Saturday in an expanded 50-minute version staged by Halifax’s Theatre Arts Guild.

It’s the story of hard-working Adele Courage (Lianne Perry), whose request to change the light bulbs in her office to energy-efficient ones sets in motion a chain of events that gets progressively more outlandish though all too sadly relatable.

Adele and FrankAdele, associate deputy minister in the Department of Persuasion, is the brains behind her boyishly charming womanizing Minister (Mark Adam), who has a taste for tequila, a clear view of how to manipulate every situation to his advantage and an overriding desire to be beloved by the boys at the legion.

His latest protege is Sophia Smart (Fiona Kirkpatrick Parsons), newly arrived from Manitoba, a province inhabited, she says, by “doers, not dreamers,” one of many funny and apt one-liners.

Sophia has come to head up the newly created Department of Common Sense, designed to make sure government decisions make sense. It’s a proposal that baffles tenacious reporter Heather MacAskill (Fiona MacKinnon), who wonders — like many others — how Sophia can actually accomplish that.

But the formidable Sophia has a few tricks up the three-quarter-length sleeve of her smartly tailored, black and white jacket, and poor Richard Clod (Rob McIntyre), one of the Clods “who has been enforcing government regulations since 1950,” watches as his chances at a seventh consecutive red tape title fade away.

The actors, ably directed by TAG veteran Nick Jupp, all create vividly realized portraits of their characters, with McIntyre’s Clod a particularly odious specimen.

When not part of the action, they sit at the back of the stage staring with vacant eyes, rendered zombie-like by the government machinations around them.

The satirical comedy is delivered broadly, overflowing with innuendo and knowing glances, bringing to mind a variety of TV sitcoms.

It’s hard not to reflect on how many times a Department of Common Sense could be useful, not just in government but in the home or private business.

Van Horne, a reporter with the defunct Halifax Daily News who spent four years working in government, told a post-show critique he has lots more material, so perhaps there will be more Common Sense at a future Fringe.