With its new production of Michael Mackenzie’s Instructions (To Any Future Socialist Government Wishing To Abolish Christmas), Coal Mine Theatre offers a timely, comical and daring metaphor through which to view the 2008 global financial collapse: that between aggressive capitalism, channeled by hedge fund manager Jason (Ted Dykstra), and mental disability, represented by his savant analyst Cass (Diana Bentley).
The story takes place in real time in Jason’ s office, where Cass pays him a 4:30 a.m. visit to discuss them having had sex after a recent lucrative business deal. The tryst gave Cass a nervous breakdown, resulting in her taking an extended leave. Now partially recovered and in therapy, she finds Jason to work out their tension and advise him on a billion-dollar pension fund up for grabs.
Mackenzie’s trust in the power of fresh metaphors to illuminate economics jargon is an appeal to the wonder of storytelling. Instead of oversimplifying and going the No Fear Shakespeare route, he chooses to unpack the finer details and questionable ethics of selling debt, bonds and insurance by having his characters constantly second guess their participation in it. It's a visceral act of translation that nowadays amounts to public service.
Bentley, as a person without disabilities, plays Cass, someone on the autism spectrum, with a commitment that would hush the most fervent crusaders against appropriation. She is intricately human and contagiously enchanted with the world as she discovers figurative language. Her presence, simple and measured, levels out how resolutely she speaks like two heartbeats hitching a ride on the same wave. Her distinctive gestures and vocal inflections dapple the room and the story with every imaginable colour.
Dykstra’s Jason, cutthroat and pragmatic, finds purpose in business and money. He is a persuasive heart attack waiting to happen. His self-realization through numbers by way of finance, a foil to Cass’s use of numbers to tame the precariousness of life, makes them metaphorical counterparts and inextricably linked.
Mackenzie is giddy, dropping these connections in wherever he can, teasing a big reveal no one will see until the end. It’s Jason’s reluctance to the empathy he stands to gain from opening himself up to them that keeps us on the edge of our seats.
Directed by David Storch, Instructions (To Any Future Socialist Government Wishing To Abolish Christmas) runs until June 19 at Coal Mine Theatre. For more information, visit http://www.coalminetheatre.com/