Quest Vs. Game
Exploring the rules of the game in Stephen Near’s An Ordinary Asset.
Pat the Dog Theatre Creation in association with Theatre Aquarius and the Hamilton Arts Council spent three days delving into a character exploration of a man who wants to live by black and white morals in a grey world.
Our playwright was inspired by Jeffrey Delisle, a former sub-lieutenant in the Canadian Navy who was convicted of treason after he sold Canadian intelligence to the Russian GRU. Delisle blamed his actions on the breakdown of his marriage after he discovered his wife’s extra-martial affair. Though our playwright was inspired by a real-life event, Stephen’s own original story began to emerge and we went into workshop with the first draft of An Ordinary Asset.
Stephen’s protagonist Donald Decaire is a military officer, a husband, father and also an avid gamer–Don lives as “Baron Mordigan” in a fantasy world (which is its own sort of reality to its inhabitants) and also as a provider, a family and military man in his reality.
Don makes the decision to become a spy for foreign intelligence after his marriage breaks down. At the conclusion of the first read we discovered that we didn’t know enough about Don to understand his motivation and decisions–the room did not empathize with our protagonist–a character our playwright wanted to portray as a tragic hero. This led into a discussion of hero’s and quests. What is a quest? What is a game? What is the difference? Is there a difference? From this jumping off point we begin to examine those questions. Why would this ordinary man embark on this kind of professional suicide? Is this his ultimate quest or simply a game? This question, and delving into the character of Donald Decaire, was the main focus of the workshop.
We examined the correlation between Don’s gamer world and Don’s spy world. How much of espionage is really just a game? There are high stakes, covert operations, under-handed dealings and lives lost and destroyed in both instances. How does the playwright weave the notion of games and levels into the structure of the play? The question of structure is a big one in a play that relies on clues, hints and secrets. We suggested that figuring out the shape and structure of the play would assist with the character development as they weave their way through the levels of the plot.
The next day our playwright brought in new pages and we focused on the concept of “games.” In the new scenes, Donald’s relationships with three key women in his life (his daughter, boss and wife) were further explored. Motivations for Don’s decision to exploit secrets started to be explored as a response to apathy in the Canadian government to acknowledge foreign intelligence. One of the biggest breakthroughs came in the form of delving into Don’s relationship with his daughter and the notion of “re-setting” the world so she could start on an even playing field.
Our final day led to the messy draft and the start of our playwright blowing up the script to start to really explore what Stephen needed to find in the piece, how much of Don’s journey is a tragic hero’s quest and how much is just a game?
The staged reading was successful, highlighting ninety minutes worth of Stephen’s piece. The audience got a sense of the story and the character of Donald Decaire. There was a strong response to the gamer scenes and Don’s alternate persona; it was energizing to watch Donald become a strong leader in the gamer world to juxtapose the more placid role he played in his life. The banality of Donald’s spy life also set up a platform for comedy and consideration as the audience watched this man embark on what he thought was a daring act of rebellion to filling out a job application to become a Russian spy. The idea of this ordinary man in this extraordinary situation is what intrigued the audience and sparked interest in delving deeper into his story.
– Jessica Anderson, Artistic Associate