CONTROVERSIAL PLAY MAKES CANADIAN POLITICS SEXY
With shows like House of Cards, binge watching and wasting weekends away for eight bucks a month, you might wonder if something you can’t legally or illegally download is ever worth the effort but let us direct your attention to Michael Healey’s Proud. Running April 5 to 26 at the Firehall Arts Centre in the Downtown Eastside, it’s a chance to see live what Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey’s draconian character in House of Cards) would be like if he was Canadian. Reason enough to go at least check out this very recent Canadian play.
Proud is a political immorality play, whose main character, The Prime Minister, a reference to one currently in power, attempts to enact his latest autocratic government policies on our sleepy nation. Set right after the 2011 federal election, the play partially deviates from reality: where the NDP swept dozens of electoral ridings in Quebec, those seats go to the Conservatives in the play, thus creating a powerful majority government for the ominous Prime Minister. If you’re not into politics, hang on because there is still reason for you to see it.
Although Underwood and the Prime Minister share a ruthless pragmatism and a jackal-like keenness for political maneuvering, Underwood never had a congresswoman burst into his office asking for a condemn. In Proud, the Prime Minister and his fictional chief of staff wrangle Jisabella Lyth (“Call me Jis if you want,” “I most certainly will not”), a new, young, sexy, loose cannon of an MP who is exactly what they need to distract the media from their Machiavellian agenda.
“Jisabella is from a generation that isn’t politically engaged,” says Firehall artistic director Donna Spencer. “We wanted to show what her vulnerabilities are.”
If you’re completely ignorant of politics, don’t worry because so are some of the characters. Proud is hilarious no matter what knowledge or care you have of our political going-ons.
However, Healey gives us much more than political comedy. The Prime Minister and Jisabella are perfect foils for one another as the all-too serious is tempered by the all-too ridiculous and vice-versa. Critics and reviews have even claimed that Healey has made his “Prime Minister” more likeable than the real thing. Rather than focusing on the unpopular elements of the actual Prime Minister, Healey provides a compelling and relatable side to his PM to the extent that might have you re-think your own perspective of our current government.
According to Spencer, “the play is sympathetic to the Prime Minister who really isn’t able to understand people but at the same time still shows us a compassionate side of him.”
While some might worry that Proud goes on a Conservative bashing, red-orange propaganda spree, Healey’s PM is sympathetically relatable and even embarrassingly human.
The play’s production history is a political drama in itself. In 2011, the Summerworks Festival in Toronto lost government funding suspiciously around the same time the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement disapproving of one of its plays. Michael Healey had been the playwright-in-residence for 11 years at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto when the artistic director, in light of the clashing political-artistic atmosphere, refused to produce Proud in 2012 citing legal concerns. Healey immediately resigned his post and produced his play independently. Since then, productions have taken off in Ottawa, Toronto and Victoria with no apparent backlashes.
In fact, Spencer, who is also the play’s director, feels its controversies were exciting for the company to engage with in the first place.
“We see the Firehall as a place to provoke thought and discussion,” she says. “It’s the job of theatre artists to reflect what’s going on in society today.”
Proud and the Firehall will give you a live performance and experience you can’t get anywhere else. The script delivers tantalizing political drama, a humanizing set of characters and perhaps a refreshing reason to shut down your House of Cards marathon for a night.
Proud runs April 5 to 26 at the Firehall Arts Centre and stars Andrew Wheeler, Emmelia Gordon, Craig Erikson and Scott Button. Visit firehallartscentre.ca for more information.
By Matthew Willis