There is a reason that political theatre is a rare thing in Canada. Our political issues tend to fall into a more prosaic type. But Michael Healey’s Proud highlights the rather hum-drum political side and shows us that its actually worth a watch. With insight and humour, Proud humanizes the Prime Minister but shies away from outright political critique. A shame as the actors are more than up to the task.
The Prime Minister, a Stephen Harper-esque character played with deliciously mockable fustiness by Andrew Wheeler, begins his new term with a desire to bring stability and control to Parliament. But new MP Jisbella (Jessie Award winner Emmelia Gordon) shakes things up with a raw sexual energy never before encountered in the political sphere. After an awkward first meeting, the two become a surprisingly successful team; ending the play as equals.
Andrew Wheeler, as The Prime Minister, gives us a beautifully rounded performance that shows us the oft-forgotten human side of a man who often gets little more than a sound byte. On the other side of the stage, Emmelia Gordon plays Jisbella with a gleeful lack of restraint. She commands of the stage and sucks you in with every move. Kyle Jespersen, who plays the sycophantic subordinate Cary, goes some way to bridge the gap between the two leads with a performance that can only be described as cheerfully fatalistic, while Daniel Doheny’s Jake fades into the background. Pam Johnson’s set is dressed in tones of beige which create a beautifully subdued backdrop for Jisbella’s loud clothing, designed by Barbara Clayden, to offset. From the actors to the crew, all the pieces are in place for a talent-driven and intelligent piece of theatre.
But with few stakes and a lack of dramatic tension, Michael Healey’s Proud is more a farce than a political satire. Some of it works – the lengthy list of things that the Prime Minister doesn’t care about is an endearingly human exploration of political maneuverings, but some things do not. Jisbella’s sexual come-on in the final scene feels awkward, unnecessary, and while offering many very funny moments, is a cheap form of comedy stemming from a desire to see the Prime Minister with his drawers down. With actors of this caliber and such sympathetic yet intelligent characters, the potential is there for a much smarter ending that digs into the issues at hand. Instead, Healey seems content to humanize Harper and leave the political ideas where they lay.
Fans of televised political comedy like The Thick of It, Veep, or Parks and Rec will recognize the beats of the plot, but will appreciate the rounded portrayal of political types. The rigid leader, the upstart newcomer, and the sycophantic subordinate are all present and offer a distinctly Canadian flavour on an otherwise familiar theme. While the play is definitely entertaining it shies away from true political critique. A shame as the possibility is there. Proud humanizes Harper, but leaves you wanting more.
Proud written by Michael Healey. Directed by Donna Spencer. On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova, Vancouver) until April 25. Visit https://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.