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Friday, March 4, 2011

Review: Instructions to any Future Socialist Government Wishing to Abolish Christmas

Ted Dykstra and Gemma James-Smith (photo credit:

The G(r)eeks
If you needed An Idiot’s Guide to Investing for your RRSP, chances are you might be a tad lost. 
by Sarah Deshaies

It’s early, early in the morning in fall 2008, and Jason is holed away in his skyscraper office, desperately awaiting the catastrophic crash of his hedge fund. His former assistant Cass turns up with a sheath of papers, dredging up memories and uncomfortable truths. 

The Centaur presents the world premiere of Michael Mackenzie’s mouthful of a new play, Instructions to any Future Socialist Government Wishing to Abolish Christmas. The title is fitting; the two characters, a high-powered hedge fund manager and his creation/assistant, an autistic mathematical genius, motor along, spitting out lines laden with economic jargon and Hellenic philosophy. At times, you feel like you’re watching a Greek tragedy... in ancient Greek.

James-Smith and Dykstra play their roles to scene-chewing ends, but it does not feel like either character is hearing the other.

Prior to this moment, Jason (Ted Dykstra) had taken awkward genius Cass (Gemma James-Smith) under his wing, teaching her all about the markets. She did well “despite her deficiencies” but has been squirrelled away by the company for months because of a nervous breakdown. Jason, for all his financial know-how and bullish grit, does not understand what Cass has arrived to tell him. She begins to connect the “correlations” for him, leading to a dizzying conclusion worthy of any ancient Greek playwright.
James-Smith and Dykstra play their roles to scene-chewing ends, but it does not feel like either character is hearing the other. Jason thunders above Cass, and she haltingly mutters numeric nonsense underneath his raving. If you needed An Idiot’s Guide to Investing for your RRSP, chances are you might be a tad lost. 

James Lavoie’s set design is impressive. Any CEO would feel at home in Jason’s office, a lair of streamlined and imposing modern wood and rock with huge windows on the sleeping city below, with Luc Prairie’s lighting set to evoke daybreak. It’s a good view from a high perch when your world is about to collapse around you.

Director Chris Abraham is familiar with Mackenzie’s work, having staged his The Geometry of Venice at the Segal last year. Mackenzie, who has a PhD in history and political science and has studied advanced mathematics, began writing Instructions in 2007, shortly before the financial disaster began to unfold in fall 2008. His idea was triggered by the preposterous fact that hedge funds were investing in the art market. 

If you’re wondering what kind of chutzpah allowed the 2008 meltdown to occur, Instructions offers a proposed peek into the offices of the wealthy Icaruses that were running the financial world prior to the collapse (and are still running the show).  

Running time: 80 minutes
Also read Barbara Ford's profile of actor Ted Dykstra


  1. Um, who is this reviewer?

  2. Honestly, this is a ridiculously childish review. Come on, honestly, this is worse than what we have to read in the gazette. A review is a critique, an opinion, an informed opinion. Not this!

  3. Booom you just got owned Anonymous

  4. I want to say first of all that I think this is a good review and I am not knocking it.

    But I was a little frustrated to see both this review and the review in the Gazette, mention that it was difficult to understand. Both seem to say if you understand complex math, you will enjoy it, and what is left unsaid is that if you do not then good luck.

    I am not mathematically inclined and my knowledge of the financial crisis is based on listening to "This American Life" and the Oscar winning documentary "Inside Job." All to say I am not an expert, and I both understood and loved this play. I had never heard of the Gaussian Copula but they explain it in the play. I thought it was great to watch a play that did not pander to the lowest common denominator, that was intellectual, and challenging. Nothing was underlined, you had to watch and listen closely, you had to work for it. And for that I was rewarded with a wonderfully complex disturbing show. That made me think as I left. Everything I am looking for when I go to the theatre.

    Again I am not trying to knock Sarah Deshaies, or Michael Mackenzie, I think their reviews are good, and they are giving us their opinion. I just wanted to share my thoughts, since I am feeling like the only person who walked away thinking, wow fantastic, intricate theatre. I wish I had a copy of the script.

    Anyone else have thoughts on the play?

  5. Freaking loved it. I too thought I would be lost but managed, and I too was amazed at the quality of writing. Great show all around.

  6. Sarah Mahoney, I should hope you're not trying to knock Michael Mackenzie, since he was the author of the play...

  7. Brilliant play, excellent actors. Gemma James-Smith was fabulous!


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