For all the controversy that precedes it, Michael Healey’s Proud is surprisingly balanced (and very, very funny).
[pullquote]Proud is a solid political satire, the likes of which we rarely see about our country. And Oui, Prime Minister, it is also mother freaking funny.[/pullquote]Now on stage at the Firehall Arts Centre, Proud comes with a tale of potential political fallout worthy of any theatrical conspiracy theorist (assuming there is really such a thing). Originally written for Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre in 2012, the script was rejected as potentially libelous. That rejection led to Healey’s resignation as Tarragon’s playwright-in-residence, a job he had held for eleven years. Theatre companies across the country have since rallied behind the script and it was only a matter of time before a full-scale production found its way to Vancouver.
There is a delicious irony, of course, that Proud makes its debut at Vancouver’s Firehall Arts Centre, located within our country’s poorest postal code and a stone’s throw from Insite. The irony is even more dripping as opening night fell just one day before more large scale cuts at our national broadcaster.
Taking place shortly after the 2011 federal election in an alternate universe where the Conservatives have won an even bigger majority by defeating the New Democrats in Quebec, we are introduced to the Prime Minster (Andrew Wheeler) and his chief of staff Cary (Craig Erickson) as they welcome their new caucus to Ottawa.
The first thing you notice is the unmistakable salt-and-pepper hair Wheeler sports, transforming him into the Prime Minster that shall not be named. The second thing you notice is the lapel pin that he wears, both early clues to the satire we are about to witness. And Healey largely doesn’t disappoint as he provides many laugh-out-loud moments at the absurdities of a system that relishes in perpetrating the large scale political equivalents of bait-and-switch.
Wheeler is terrific here as the PM and not just from his passing resemblance to the man himself. Wheeler’s socially awkward physical portrayal combined with Healey’s sometimes surprisingly sympathetic writing make for a well layered characterization. He nails the PMs deadpan demeanour and shows his comedic chops in Healey’s particularly funny speech about the things he secretly doesn’t care about.
Director Donna Spencer’s choice of Erickson as the PM’s right hand is an inspired piece of casting, whose boyish good looks belies his character’s own mastery of the political game. But it is Emmelia Gordon as Jisbella, the rookie MP from Quebec who gives the biggest and best performance of the night. Brash, loud and full of invectives, she plays at a level that any lesser actor would collapse under.
Completing the cast is Scott Button who makes appearances as Jisbella’s son Jake some 15 years in the future. Now running as an independent in the same riding that swept her mother to power, Jake makes Healey’s case for a political system that cannot survive in its current form. Through Jake, Healey preaches against the “for us or against us” attitude that infects much of the politics in Canada.
Set designer Pam Johnson goes all out with a wonderfully grand but austere PM office and Spencer uses it to full advantage, even managing to inject a bedroom farce mentality with its slamming doors.
Perhaps not quite as controversial as we are lead to believe by its advance press, Proud is a solid political satire, the likes of which we rarely see about our country. And Oui, Prime Minister, it is also mother freaking funny.
By Michael Healey. Directed by Donna Spencer. Proud continues at the Firehall Arts Centre through April 26, 2014. Visit https://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.