Well, here we are: the federal election has come and gone and there sure wasn’t a wave of NDP support this time around. Quite the contrary – Alberta painted itself blue, again, except for a little island of orange in the very centre (again).
This context adds a bittersweet edge to the rest of the run of E Day, an indie production by Serial Collective and new work by Edmonton playwright Jason Chinn, currently playing at the Roxy.
The show is about the 2015 Orange Crush – the historic NDP victory over the Conservatives in the Alberta provincial election. This watershed moment in our political timeline already feels like ancient history even though it was only four years ago, with Alberta’s government having already flipped back to the Conservatives.
E Day takes place entirely inside the bustling campaign headquarters of the NDP candidate for a riding in north Edmonton, Candace Berlinguette. Berlinguette’s character is fictional – as are all the other characters in this show, save one Rachel Notley – but that’s the performer’s real name. All of the cast goes by their real names here, in a nice touch of authenticity.
Berlinguette is a former kindergarten teacher and political unknown, running against a prominent Conservative candidate. She’s aided by her long-suffering “voter contact organizer” Sheldon (Elter) and a diverse crew of volunteers. There’s a feisty office manager Amena (Shehab), two young Poli Sci student phone canvassers (the adorable Asia Bowman and Shingai David Madawo), a couple of Safeway union employees and foot canvassers (the sardonic Lora Brovold and Sue Goberdhan), and wise but woo-y election day coordinator Linda (Grass). And there’s Berlinguette’s scene-stealing partner, the well-intentioned but erratic Beth (Graham), who shoots paintballs at the opposite candidate’s signs and has disastrous food safety habits.
Director Dave Horak keeps energy levels high with a staging that’s in the round and a large cast of 12 that’s constantly on the move. Someone is always entering and exiting from different parts of the stage, ping-ponging the audience’s attention and keeping us engaged throughout the brisk 100-minute runtime.
Chinn’s story humanizes politics, which can feel very de-humanizing at times (especially in recent days). As someone who hasn’t volunteered on a campaign before, I appreciated this behind-the-scenes peek at how things run. I had no idea how critical the campaign team’s efforts are on election day, for example. I tend to vote in advance polls but most people leave it to the big day – if they vote at all. Targeting a particular poll and transporting citizens to and from the polling stations can make or break a race, as we learn.
E Day is also very much an exploration of the colourful, rich lives of the people in and around politics. Over the course of the show we learn why each one of them is there and what makes them tick. The script is full of small but charming details – like who’s turn it is to clean the crock-pot – which ground the story in a familiar reality. Some of the plot developments are pretty easy to spot coming and may feel a wee bit cliché. But they also show how politicians and those around them are real people and not just a collection of talking heads in the media.
E Day is a fun canonization of a historic moment in Albertan history. I can only hope that we won’t have to wait another four decades before Chinn has reason to write a sequel.
Listen to this episode of the podcast to hear more about this show.
The Roxy on Gateway
Until Sunday, Oct 27
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