Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review: (Toronto) Proud

Maev Beatty and Michael Healey (photo credit: Sean Howard)

by Gregory W. Bunker

What happened at the Berkeley Street Theatre last night was genius. Proud is an important contribution to the discussion of identity and democracy in this country, accomplished by examining the not-so-evident agenda of the current government. It just so happens that this examination can be, conveniently, narrowed down to the vision of a single person. Michael Healey cleverly creates a well-researched piece of historical fiction to convey his analysis, and he mashes it up with some sexy to keep it funny and awkwardly human.

The 90-minute play begins by assuming that the Conservatives—instead of the NDP—sweep Quebec in the 2011 federal election. The new majority government has a clear mandate for change (through discipline!) reiterated in a comically sober opening monologue by the new, unnamed, Prime Minister, brilliantly played by Healey. The audience is then briefly introduced to the clinical and somewhat psychotic sidekick Chief of Staff (Tom Barnett). Although the opening scene portrays the Prime Minister in his familiar public persona, the fantastic script does not allow him to be so easily demonized—what would be new or insightful about that? The real novelty of the play is what follows.

It’s powerful.

The unexpected sweep brings in rookie MPs new to the Prime Minister’s particular political brand. The plot revolves around the private coaching of one of these undisciplined backbenchers, a randy single mother named Jisbella Lyth (Maev Beaty). Initially it seems she is devastatingly (and perhaps a bit unbelievably—would she really not know what a riding is?) outwitted by the Prime Minister and his henchman, but she evolves quickly from rookie to ruse, and finally, to rogue. She seems like the perfect foil to a cold, calculating Prime Minister, but by the end the two reveal in each other some commonalities. The “meaningless sex” scene between them is the hilarious height of this dynamic. Through his process of coaching “Jis,” the Prime Minister reveals his political playbook and personal beliefs, and inadvertently becomes a stand-in father to her seven-year-old son (Jeff Lillico). Eighteen years later the boy enters politics himself, and in an interview Lillico’s character relays a remarkably sentimental and nuanced description of the Prime Minister’s past advice and intentions, while explaining his motivation for respectfully challenging his mentor’s ideas and direction for the country. It’s powerful.

Many people were curious to finally see this play as it was originally not produced because of the ire that was thought it would provoke from the government (and caused Healey, then playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre, to leave after 10 years at that post). This only made the play more important to put on. Kudos and congratulations to Healey for persisting in doing so and producing it.

Proud deserves attention not for this controversy but for the artful and thoroughly enjoyable way it presents its critique of the government. It is not so much a roast as it is a playful exposé. It shows a Prime Minister who is genuine in his intentions for a better country and indeed who is very proud of his vision and ability to achieve it. The crux of the play is that the key to achieving that vision is to obscure it. The comedy reveals a scheming, seemingly cyborg Prime Minister as a well-meaning intellectual committed beyond all else—even beyond office sex—to a “happier” Canada: his Canada. And at the end we are left to consider its consequences. Very funny, timely, and essential viewing.

To October 6
Read also director Miles Potter's first-person on preparation for the production

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