This week, I’ll be reviewing a play I saw this week. I like theatre a lot (I’ll admit to being a huge fan of musicals!) – theatre is another form of storytelling and it was a pleasure to go see Proud, put on by Theatre Projects Manitoba. If you have a chance, check it out – it’s on until November 16th!
A review of Proud by Michael Healey
“Although much of our life is rooted in the anxiety of time, in other words the fear of death, the continuity of knowledge and wisdom that has brought us here together is rooted in love, a love that is not only as strong as death, but able to cast out its fear.”
– Northrop Frye
As 75 first-year CreComm students gathered at the Rachel Browne Theatre this Wednesday to see Proud, a play by Michael Healey, the above quote was projected onto a black screen above a darkened set.
What does this quote have to do with the play? Up front, not much. But after spending time pondering how the quote related to the play, I realized that in some way, ‘the anxiety of time’, the ‘continuity of knowledge and wisdom’, and ‘love’, all have something to do with politics. What’s this now?
Here’s the connection between the quote and the play as I understand it: Healey’s production, according to the synopsis provided on the Theatre Projects Manitoba website, is a “biting political satire” that is “humorous and clever” in its exploration of the “corrosive nature of the politics of division.” And as the cast members acted out each scene with guile and hilarity, the roles of anxiety, wisdom, and love in politics became a little more apparent.
The play is set in an alternate reality right after the 2011 Federal Election, where the Conservatives have won a majority government. There were only four characters in the play: Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Cary Baines, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, new Member of Parliament Jisbella Lyth, and her son, Jake.
Ross McMillan’s portrayal of Stephen Harper was the most entertaining and impressive role in the play. Healey’s Harper is true to reality in that his Harper has an outward persona that is controlled, cold, and calculating. But the best part of Healey’s Harper was the Harper behind closed doors. The ‘real’ Harper is awkward, passionate, wise, at times both mean and sweet, and lonely. In other words, human. And it was this human portrayal of Harper that had us laughing and falling in to ‘like’ with him.
Political opinions and leanings aside, the Harper of Healey’s imagination was real and funny and (surprisingly?) likeable. Ross McMillan’s interpretation of the character made me want to believe that that is what Stephen Harper is like in real life – who knows, maybe Proud nails Harper’s true nature. After the play, members of the audience had a chance to question the director, Ardith Boxall, and all of the actors, in a Talkback session (a brief Q+A period) and McMillan told us he has been studying Harper’s mannerisms since 2006 – you can tell he did a thorough character-study because his acting was spot on. I loved it.
I’ve never attended a play with a Talkback session afterwards and I thought that was a really valuable component to the play – having the chance to chat with the actors and director about certain aspects of the play as well as the metaphors and underlying messages in the play was awesome. It helped provide more insight into how they felt about the play and what the play was trying to say.
My favourite scene in the play was between Jisbella and Harper after hours in his office, talking about beliefs. Healey’s Harper had simple goals to accomplish as Prime Minister – he didn’t care about abortion, he didn’t care about Quebec, and he really didn’t care about hockey. All he cared about was “self-reliance” and creating a government that would help Canadians realize a self-reliant life. This scene showed Harper’s version of love for Canada and politics, allowing us to see something other than the anxiety of controlling different branches of governments and creating laws that solve imaginary problems.
One thing that surprised me (but didn’t surprise me, sadly) was how women in politics are portrayed. The character Jisbella Lyth was ridiculous: both bright and astoundingly dumb, and both politically savvy and extremely naive. Her character was obsessed with sex and not at all concerned about politics. She was a willing distraction and scapegoat. Harper created a political monster in her and then when he wanted to turn the situation he had created around, she dared him to try to ‘unmake’ her.
Is this how women in politics are perceived? Is this how women in general are perceived? Are we dumb, conniving, naive, sex-crazed creatures to be made and unmade? No. While Daria Puttaert did a phenomenal job portraying Jisbella Lyth, I really wanted to know how she felt about her character and what her character was saying about the role of women in politics and the (mis)treatment of women by the Harper government. I didn’t have a chance to ask this during the Talkback session – bummer. Anyways, fascinating stuff.
While I don’t know if this play invoked a “proud to be Canadian” vibe, I left the play proud of Canadian theatre – we have phenomenal playwrights, directors, and actors, not to mention those who work behind the scenes.
In all, this play was extremely well done. While only four characters and only one set could have been lacklustre or boring, the actors did a great job moving the story forward. Healey’s script was well-written and the play was well-executed under the direction of Boxall. To me, everything worked well and reminded me of some of the Fringe plays I’ve seen in the past, with small casts and political messages. Job well done.
I encourage you to check Proud out at the Rachel Browne Theatre this weekend if you can!
Next week, we’ll get back to books – I just finished The Goldfinch!
Until then, happy reading!