• By: Keith Whittier

Something Wonderfully Wicked This Way Comes as City Lawyers Enter the Court of Macbeth

Photos by Andrew Alexander

In Henry VI, Shakespeare penned one of his most quoted lines referring to the vilest of deeds that could be done to any bar association: “The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.” Actor Woody Harrelson was much more lenient when he said that in “the courtroom…a lawyer really becomes an actor. The best lawyers are really theatrical.”

We think the good Bard would raise no objection and give the theatrical barristers of the County of Carleton Law Association a pass full of well scribed adulation as they step out of the courtroom and onto the stage to perform one of his greatest works.

For many Ottawa theatre goers, the annual Lawyer Play at the Great Canadian Theatre Company is a highlight of the season. Now in its 18th year, the gathering of lawyers, paralegal workers and articling students from across the city have seen glowing reviews for their acting prowess fit not only for closing remarks in a high profile case but some of the theatres best known productions.

Though beginning on more familiar ground in 1999 with 12 Angry Jurors and 2001’s Witness for the Prosecution, the once a year acting troupe would go on to tackle works like Inherit the Wind, You Can’t Take It With You and The Mouse That Roared. This year they enter the court of Macbeth, the second time the group has rose to the task of taking on Shakespeare’s often challenging dialogue having put on a showing fitting for Stratford back in 2014 with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Macbeth is a seminal work in all of theatre and one of the bloodiest of Shakespearean tragedies. It’s central plot revolves around ambition, murder, guilt and revenge with a cauldron full of witchcraft sprinkled into the mix. Unlike some of their past performances, there is little comedy here to latch onto as we watch our lead character fall from grace. With tonal shifts that move from tormented soliloquies to elements of horror and dashing swordplay, it may be the Lawyer Play’s most ambitious production to date.

The cast of 26 were up to the challenge, taking their acting work just as serious as their day jobs. They put in over 140 hours of rehearsal time meeting after work twice a week as well as on the weekends to ensure they are ready for opening night. Ottawa Life took in a sneak peek last night for the production’s dress rehearsal and we are happy to report their efforts once again yield high praise. From the opening crackle of thunder to the final bows, you will be held captive by the productions moody set and lavish, sometimes Steampunk’esq, costuming.

There is far more fair here than foul with leads Marrisa Victor and Krik Shannon’s portrayal as the sinister titular character and his dastardly wife seeming effortless and dagger sharp. The chemistry between the two is deviously delicious and it has to be to pull off the seduction into murder and the duality of their downfall. With blood on their hands, anyone familiar with the production knows that things will not go well for Macbeth and his bride but Victor and Shannon provide you with just enough pathos that you find yourself feeling sorry for the duo….almost.

The group and their director, Geoff McBridge, do make a few changes but they are hardly noticeable. For example, Janice Payne turns in such a stellar performance as Duncan in a costume straight out of Middle Earth that you could almost think the role was always fit for a Queen and not a King. Other standouts are Ted Mann’s Macduff –channeling the perfect amount of sympathy needed to get the audience on his side of revenge– and Tara Berish, Sarah Speevak and Carolyn Elliott-Magwood who brew up the right blend of toil and trouble in their outright creepy version of the Weird Sisters.

In continuing with the Lawyer Play tradition, the production will be hosting a number of cameos throughout the run including a Hockey Night at GCTC when former Ottawa Senators Captain Daniel Alfredsson and former President Cyril Leeder making their debut on the stage. MP for Ottawa Centre Catherine McKenna, Regional Sr. Justice J. McNamara, past CCLA president D. Lynn Watt and retired Nelligan O’Brien and Payne partner John E. Johnson will also be among the guest talent over the shows run.

“We are delighted that Ottawa’s celebrities, and community pillars are eager to join us on the stage in support this worthy cause,” say the co-chairs of the Lawyer Play Committee, Tara Berish and Dan Hohnstein.

As one of the Ottawa legal community’s longest running fundraisers, the play has raised over $1,300,000 for charity over their 18 years. This year, they have selected Parents’ Lifelines of Eastern Ontario, a support organization for families with youth struggling with mental health and addiction.

“We at PLEO are thrilled to be the selected charity for the Lawyer Play,” says PLEO Executive Director Phyllis Grant-Parker. “This will enable us to reach out to significantly more families in our community whose children and youth are facing mental health and addiction challenges. Through our programs, we can help empower them to be the supporters and advocates their children need.”

In addition, the GCTC will be collecting donations for the Ottawa Food Bank, Twice Upon a Time and Dress for Success so be sure to give generously when the hurlyburly's done.

Tickets for the Gala evenings (May 25, 26 and 27) are $110 and include a post-show reception and a $60 tax receipt. Tickets for the Preview performance on May 24 and Gala performance on May 26 are SOLD OUT. Tickets are available through any cast member or at the GCTC Box Office by calling 613-236-5196 or online at www.gctc.ca.