Monday, October 29, 2012

Theatre: Michael Healey's Play Proud

We went to see Michael Healey's new play Proud mostly to see what all the buzz and controversy was about surrounding its rejection by the Tarragon Theatre, resulting in Healey's resignation from his decade-long role as resident playwright.  Tarragon had produced the previous two plays in a trilogy, but passed on this final chapter (a spoof caricaturing Prime Minister Stephen Harper) fearing it was a bit too contentious and possibly even construed as libelous.  Healey decided to raise the money for the show himself and held a successful multi-week run at the Berkeley Street Theatre.

The play hypothesizes what could have happened in the 2011 election if all those NDP seats won by young, inexperienced candidates were actually Conservative seats, leading to a massive Conservative majority.  Michael Healey played the Prime Minister role himself and portrays a stiff, stuffy leader who is used to getting his own way - no cause for libel so far.  There is a funny scene between the PM and his chief adviser where they are trying to shuffle the house seating chart.  The PM does not want to sit facing any member who has disagreed with him. As the conversation goes on, member after member is removed from his sight lines.

The PM informs his new caucus that he means to control the message to the people and that there should be no impromptu interviews with the press.  Any issues should be brought directly to him. Newly elected single mother Jisabella Lyth takes him at his word and bursts into his office in search of a condom so she can have sex with a reporter on her desk to celebrate her victory.  The shocked PM tries to have her ousted, but is soon manipulated into teaching her the ropes and trying to use her for his own advantage.  She can be his secret diversionary tactic, causing uproars about policies that he doesn't care about, to draw attention away from important legislature that he actually wants to push through.

The witty interaction and fight for control between these two is both engrossing and hilarious to watch.  Jisabeth is brash, sensual, intelligent and not the pushover or puppet that the PM was hoping for.  While Healey plays the PM for laughs, he also imbues upon him a sensitive side.  This is especially displayed when the PM talks to Jisabeth's young son on the phone and in his own uptight manner, actually comforts the boy.

The only questionable part of the play was the ending which felt tacked on and unnecessary.  It featured Jisabeth's grown up son some years in the future.  He may have been trying to convey some final insight about the PM and his governing style, but it just left us confused.

This play was topical, had great dialogue and was fun to watch.  While its satirical nature did mock our PM and our government, there did not seem to be anything particularly litigious about it.  More likely, the Tarragon feared subtler retribution, in the form of reduced government grants and funding.  The whole experience probably benefited Healey's play more than it hurt it.  In addition to his regular audience, the extra publicity he received drove up attendance figures from those like us, who were merely curious about the affair.

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