I got a last minute invite to a workshop of Lisa Codrington and Kevin Morse’s WIP A Modest Proposal at Tapestry yesterday evening and I am really glad I could drop everything and go. It’s based on the Swift essay; updated to a modern city where the mayor fears defeat at the upcoming election if something isn’t done about the poor who are swarming the streets. It’s kind of reminiscent of when Toronto was “terrorized” by squeegee kids. Anyway the mayor’s staff come up with the response that you’ve already guessed and the first victim is the pregnant beggar who has been bugging the mayor. There’s also a street meat salesman who is having an affair with the mayor, of which more later. Fast forward a year to where the newly reelected mayor is giving a press conference and eating tasty baby treats provided by the succesful babybites entrepreneur and former street vendor that she’s doing in the loading bay. There’s one of those giant cheques for ten grand (of the kind that Sick Kids, ironically, is so fond of) for the public spirited former beggar and child donor. The former beggar is, unsurprisingly, not happy about the situation and when the mayor is discovered to be carring Mr. Babybites’ child and disgraced she is the one who shops her as a poor person in posession of an illegal baby…
It’s really a rather brilliant encapsulation of the spirit of the Swift. All the horror is there and a great deal of humour. In discussions afterwards (which of course is the point of workshopping) there seemed to be a broad consensus that it was nearly there. Maybe just not quite getting to Swift’s level of ironic detachment and ability to make his readers complicit. Brecht was mentioned, with reason I think. (Ironically I probably wouldn’t have made this show if Bloor Hot Docs hadn’t dropped their showing of the ROH Mahagonny).
The clever storifying of the Swift was well matched by Kevin Morse’s colourful score for six piece chamber ensemble and realised wonderfully by all concerned. Lauren Segal as Madame Mayor was incredible; intense, vicious, heartbreaking. From ten feet away it was an extraordinary thing to see and hear. The rest of the cast weren’t too shabby either with Teiya Kasahara as the Beggar, and Aaron Durand as Mr. Babybites ably supported by Mireille Asselin, Virginia Hatfield and Derek Kwan in a variety of roles. The Dora for best stage barfing goes to Mireille! Steven Philcox conducted.
OK so this wasn’t the finished product and it can and will get even better but I still enjoyed it more than the hyped up megashow I saw the night before. The good stuff doesn’t always happen on the biggest stages.