Bad dog, put down the stick

By AP Downey

Remember the time when we absorbed our information through tiny humorous factoids? You know, when we got more information about Canadian current events from Don Cherry and Rick Mercer than Peter Mansbridge or Paul Martin? Do you remember that entire era when comedy was the easiest way to swallow our world?

Downstage remembers. Rights and Freedumbs is the second work in their Dog From the Machine series.

“The comedy works when you want to talk about some pretty heavy topics”, explains director and University of Calgary graduate student, Simon Mallett. “This show uses lot of satire and black comedy to point out problems with human rights issues–both in Canada and worldwide.”

And they know what they’re doing. The Culture of Fear premiered last month, the first of the planned five performance pieces about the political landscape in Canada. Black comedy? Their mock commercial for “Protect-O-Tech’s ‘Home Homeland Security Litmus Test’” shows their capacity for dark humour.

Satire? Culture had an entire scene of marionettes, jerked around by the holders of the strings, representing the media.

This production’s theme is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, an issue that came up repeatedly during the recent federal election. Human rights groups have had a tough battle over racism, gay marriage, and gender roles, especially when Canadian history gives us a biased precedent. Not exactly funny stuff. But Downstage analyzes human rights in a series of what’s shaping up to be a brilliant comic vignettes. But the purpose isn’t just to make you laugh, it’s also to make you think.

“The purpose is to stimulate thought and discussion around these important issues,

raising questions that need to be asked without providing easy answers”, Simon explains as the cast of the show nods in agreement. “I think it’s something that’s both entertaining and thought-provoking. We’re trying to question–not judge.”

So question your world, not in a philosophy class, but in a theatre. Comedy is the new vehicle for in-depth social and political discussion. Canadian politicians regularly appear on CBC comedy like This Hour Has 22 Minutes, satirizing themselves. The American presidential race is coming to us from John Stewart and Jay Leno, not the six o’clock news. Theatre that makes audiences think must first make the audience laugh.

Remember that era? You’d better. You’re living it. And Downstage embraces it.

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