Jesse Lipscombe is one of the stars of the Citadel's interconnected comedies, "The Candidate" and "The Party." // Courtesy of the Citadel Theatre

Political maneuvering: New Citadel comedies The Candidate and The Party share cast in real time

The Candidate and The Party
Directed by Kat Sandler and Daryl Cloran: Citadel Theatre; Sat., Mar. 30 – Sun., Apr. 21

By Paul Blinov

Kat Sandler is crouched down, casting a weary eye over a colour-coded set of papers from a stage management binder.

The Toronto playwright is looking at a moment-by-moment breakdown of both of her two new comedies, The Candidate and The Party. Both are running concurrently in two of the Citadel’s theatre spaces, and both use the same 10-member cast in each show. In other words, to hit their cues, actors have to race back and forth from one end of the Citadel to the other—The Club and the Maclab are the two most distant theatre spaces in the building.

“Everyone’s exhausted but still really excited,” Sandler says, a veritable bundle of energy at 9:30 a.m. “It’s going as well as can be expected, I think, given what the fuck it is.”

The ambitious project had simple beginnings: Sandler was approached by Citadel artistic director Daryl Cloran about writing something like House & Garden, an interlocking pair of British plays. Those two scripts share a situation and take place in directly connected locations—when a character leaves one of those plays, they immediately arrive at the other.

“But those were in real-time, and the locations were very close,” Sandler notes, grinning wryly. “We’ve taken that one step further, because what I’m interested in looking at is cause and effect: how a decision that we make, say, at a party, effects our lives or the future of a country many months later.”

So The Party is chronologically first, set at a fundraiser for the Left Party, hosted by its leader’s rich twin brother. An immersive production, the cast mingle in and around the audience in the cozier club space. Months later, The Candidate takes place as a more traditional slamming-door farce, with scandal engulfing those same characters on the eve of an election.

“Think of it like a prequel and a sequel, in whatever order you choose to see it,” Sandler says. “You can see events set in motion and then you can see them play out, or you can go back in time to see how it all went down.”

The mechanics of moving the cast through two plays in real-time—two plays set in different times, with costume changes to boot—are, as you can imagine, daunting both onstage and off. Colour-coded timing sheets aside, there’s a stage management team of five to help coordinate the between-show flow. But despite the challenges, Sandler sees the perks of leaning into the considerable ambitions of the premise.

“The thing about this gimmick is we want to use it for what it can do,” she says. “We have jokes that are set-up in one play, and the punchline comes in the other play. There are lots of jokes in both plays, but the way you write comedy, think of it like having another play to tell the rest of a joke, or tell the rest of a story, or to have a precursor to the rest of the story.”

The subject matter couldn’t seem more pertinent, too, as our province plunges into election season. For Sandler, politics seemed like a prime setting for the dual-comedy concept.

“It’s a world that has these crazy, outlandish scenarios and big, broad characters,” she says. “And right now, you can’t make that shit up. There are a lot of recognizable archetypes—taking a lot of public figures you recognize, putting ’em all in a blender and sticking a funny wig on ’em. That’s I think where we’ve landed.

“Politics are really just about people,” she continues. “People are funny, and want things, and get into scrapes, and fall down, and slam doors.

“So much door slamming!” Sandler laughs. “I’ve never had so many doors.”

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