What happens when your family gets together for dinner? Is it a pleasant culinary experience or do you leave feeling you’ve just attended a boxing match? In Olivier Choiniere’s Public Enemy (translated by Bobby Theodore and directed by Brendan Healy), which opened at Canadian Stage‘s Berkeley Street Theatre on September 23, 2022, a typical Canadian family is put under the microscope when they gather at grandmother’s house for dinner.
The family makeup in Canadian Stage’s Public Enemy includes a senior woman; her unmarried son plagued by job instability; her other son, who is married with a teenaged son; and her daughter and her preteen daughter. Typical subjects that create tension among the generations are discussed at this meal including the annoying interference of the smartphone, how corporations are screwing the regular person, and how the kids of today don’t learn proper English, as well as jabs at the current political leaders. Tempers flare to the point that it would be surprising if any morsel of food has a chance of digesting.
The dialogue is sharp and very relevant. The only problem is to emphasize the fact that no one is listening to each other, the characters talk over one another throughout the play. Of course, this makes it difficult to tune in to each conversation [remember the last Canadian federal leaders debate?] And there is no let-up of the building momentum of frustration. Each dinner guest has an abundant reserve of suppressed rage. So be forewarned: this play offers no comic relief!
Finley Burke as Tyler effectively conjures the unaffable surliness of Pacey Witter from Dawson’s Creek. Any female who has had a teenaged brother can easily recognize Tyler’s self-centered moodiness.
Jonathan Good as James is particularly formidable as the concerned father with enough backbone not to let his son make the rules.
Amy Rutherford as Suzie injects a dose of feisty vivaciousness into the second Act. Rutherford captures both Suzie’s compassion – she sincerely desires to help this family – and self interest.
Rosemary Dunsmore is more convincing as Elizabeth later on in the play after she has moved to the nursing home. She vividly expresses her anger, as well as confusion at the turn of events in her life.
Mary Spyrakis’s props create the home of a typical Canadian grandparent and include a Group of Seven print, photos of family on the wall, and a bookshelf overflowing with those hard covers filled with paper with which Tyler is unfamiliar. I loved the creative use of the animal puppet in a later scene.
Julie Fox’s brilliant set features rotating rooms that allows for the seamless transition from scene to scene. The cleverly inserted door frame between the living room and the dining room provides the audience with a clear view of the chaos in the adjoining room, and amplifies the divisions in this family’s dynamics.
Public Enemy‘s message is: We’re all capable of aggression if we don’t reign in our emotions. It’s unfortunately an unsettling, but true proposition as effectively demonstrated by the cast.
Thanksgiving dinner is in two weeks. Go and see Canadian Stage’s Public Enemy and let’s hope that you can keep your opinion in check when your dear old uncle spouts off that the country is going down the toilet.
Canadian Stage‘s Public Enemy is at Berkeley Street Theatre until October 8, 2022. Purchase tickets online or at the Box Office. The Berkeley Street Theatre is located at 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, 416-368-3110.
You may be interested in reading my review, “Uncle Vanya at Crow’s Theatre: Chekhov’s Family Drama Delights“.