King of Canada rings a lot of bells

Infinitheatre’s latest play is based on the eccentric life of William Lyon Mackenzie King

By Byron Toben

King of Canada, the latest play by Paul Van Dyck, rang a lot of bells at its live-streamed world premiere this past weekend.

Zach Fraser -

Zach Fraser – Image: Vivian Doan

One chime was for the first Infinitheatre play directed by Zach Fraser. Mr. Fraser will take over as Infinitheatre’s second artistic director in February, succeeding Guy Sprung who is leaving after 22 years at its helm, having accomplished much during his tenure.

Another chime rang for Brian Dooley who ably played the role of William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest-serving Prime Minister (21.5 non-consecutive years), whose term covered the jazz age, the Great Depression and WW II. Despite his skills at being elected and governing, this lifelong bachelor was given to secret séances where he sought to re-connect with his beloved deceased mother and his past three dogs.

A whole bunch of chimes for Ellen David who portrayed the medium and also about 36 other roles. Many of these were brief cameos but juicy. They included King’s mother and dogs, President Franklin Roosevelt, Adolph Hitler and Winston Churchill. (The total characterizations eclipsed the previous record for multiple characters played by one actor in the same play, set by Cindy Davis in another Infinitheatre created play, Book of Bob, by Arthur Holden. There, her main character was God him/herself.)

Big Ben’s booming resonance went off as my conclusion was that I can’t wait to see this piece again in the flesh when circumstances allow.

And a whole raft of ding dongs for the Group’s chutzpah during these trying COVID-19 times, in coming close to being the first theatre in Canada to stage the show live to a small well distanced audience. When prevented by provincial laws, they did the next best thing – perform it live to a remote audience by streaming. This allowed the use of full costumes and sets. Mr. Fraser, who had successfully mounted a graphic novel on the stage, rose to the occasion with a fluid, almost cinematic flow of movement, further enhanced at times by his puppetry background. The matinee performance I watched registered 99 others. A feeling of being there was created by a sidebar with brief questions or comments by the audience.

Big Ben’s booming resonance went off as my conclusion was that I can’t wait to see this piece again in the flesh when circumstances allow.

William Lyon Mackenzie King at a seance

William Lyon Mackenzie King at a seance – Image: Public domain

A few words about the backgrounds of the playwright, performers and director above.

Paul Van Dyck

An Ontario native, Mr. Van Dyck studied theatre at Queen’s and then travelled to Africa, crossing the Sahara desert. En route, he picked up from the ship’s library a copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost, which inspired his one-man adaptation thereof, since performed to great acclaim in many places. He has combined his acting career with playwriting and since, directing as well, winning a six-month internship at the Shaw Festival in Niagara. Although a demonstrated creative writer, he is currently studying creative writing (presumably remotely) at the University of British Columbia.

His pending production, Siberian Summers, slated for the Centaur Theatre, has been postponed due to the current COVID crisis.

Ellen David

Ellen David -

Ellen David – Image: courtesy Ellen David

This is one busy gal, with some acting roles in 22 films, 55 TV shows and 33 stage performances. Her studies at Concordia and York led to more in Paris and London. She lately turned to directing as well and was recently appointed artistic director of Theatre Lac-Brome.

Brian Dooley

A Bishop’s University grad who went on to the National Theatre School where he now teaches. He has appeared across Canada and elsewhere in myriad roles and introduced French playwrights in Alberta to Edmonton audiences, where he served six years as artistic director to L’UniThéâtre and director of play development to the Citadel Theatre. He bears a slight resemblance to Mr. King (check your CDN $50 bill) but his talents got him this role, not that observation.

Zach Fraser

A drama teacher at John Abbott and a puppeteer expert, he is perhaps best known locally for his direction of Louis Riel: A comic strip stage play which I enjoyed at its debut at La Chapelle Theatre in 2016, remounted the next year out at the Hudson Village Theatre.

Feature image: Ellen David with Brian Dooley, by Louise Verdone

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More articles from Byron Toben

Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.

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