Daisy delights at the GCTC
ABOVE: Marion Day, Andrew Moodie, Geoff McBride, Eric Coates star in Daisy by Ottawa playwright Sean Devine. (Photo: Andrew Alexander)
While it is wonderful to be back for socially distanced, in-person live performances, it is even more phenomenal to have the chance to see our hometown theatre/cinema star Andrew Moodie back on stage.
The production is Daisy and it is playing at the Great Canadian Theatre Company. It opened just before the lockdown brought life to a halt and is finally having its run, which is also its Canadian premiere.
The play, based on historical facts, takes us back to the year 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson was up against Barry Goldwater for the presidency. The White House hired NYC ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) to help with campaign messaging. The firm then engaged media consultant Tony Schwartz to help create the Daisy ad, a 60-second TV spot that forever changed advertising in American politics. The ad has been deemed one of the most brilliant, pioneering political attack ads ever. It succeeded in creating widespread fear about atomic war and did so without even naming Goldwater. (A quick aside, Schwartz was a media genius, professor, sound engineer, and creator who worked on ads for everyone from the UN to Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and hundreds of other politicians.)
Daisy, written by Ottawa playwright Sean Devine, takes a fictional look into some of what may have happened behind the scenes in the development of the ad, including possible moral complexities and dilemmas faced by the characters. Each has their motivation for being involved in the project and Devine touches on some of them.
The backdrop of the play includes civil rights and the Vietnam War and the ultra-conservatism of Republicans, to name a few of the issues. There is historical footage brilliantly woven into the play that keeps everything together. (Without it, the play would be difficult to follow.) When you consider all the antics of the last U.S. election and the role of the media and manipulation of citizens, it is even more interesting to be brought back to that first ad that changed the game.
It is not surprising, given the cast, that the acting is phenomenal. It is fun to see former GCTC Artistic Director Eric Coates on stage again. He offers a perfect performance as quirky, agoraphobic Tony Schwartz. Brad Long captures the ditzy Sid Myers and Paul Rainville, an Ottawa acting icon who never fails to deliver, is wonderful as Bernbach. Portraying a woman in advertising in the 60s and the discrimination she would have faced was not an easy task but Marion Day does it, with her wooden (or is it steely?) Louise Brown.
Moodie is brilliant and commands the stage. There is one particularly poignant scene, where he is alone, listening to a Johnson speech, visibly apprehensive and vulnerable waiting for his boss’ pledge for civil rights. It is the opposite of the bullish, headstrong character we see when he is with the ad folks. But in that one dramatic scene fantastically acted by Moodie, upon hearing Johnson’s commitment, one understands why Lewis will do anything to ensure Johnson’s victory and Moodie pulls the audience in with him.
In the case of the ad agency, one is left with a sour taste for its reasons to be involved in the project and the acting supports that all the way.
As for the election results and the hypocrisy of the Daisy ad making people fearful of Goldwater and atomic war while the Vietnam War continued under Johnson, that is up to the audience to judge.
Eric Coates | Tony Schwartz
Marion Day | Louise Brown
Brad Long | Sid Myers
Geoff McBride | Aaron Ehrlich
Andrew Moodie | Clifford Lewis
Paul Rainville | Bill Bernbach
Daisy runs until December 17th. www.gctc.ca or call the box office (613) 236-5196