Review: PROUD (Firehall Arts Centre until April 26)

PROUD, a political satirical comedy, is well-produced in this Firehall Arts Centre production. Emmelia Gordon is wickedly funny (and clearly enjoying herself immensely) as the ingénue, although definitely not innocent, Member of Parliament who has been elected by accident.

(The inspiration for this character is clearly Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who inadvertently went from bartender to NDP MP in a Quebec riding. Note that Brosseau is working hard to be an effective MP, and is gaining the confidence of her constituents, and is now Deputy Critic for Agriculture.)

When Andrew Wheeler as the Prime Minister walked in, the audience started laughing, because the depiction is astonishingly on point. He captures the look and mannerisms of Harper so well, but in a just slightly-over-the-top way.

The chief of staff character (too young to be a Nigel Wright clone) has his own agenda. He supports these two characters very well.

The character who sets nearly off-stage, playing both Evan Salomon (CBC reporter) and Jyzabel’s young son, is humorous, but it was sometimes difficult to catch which side of the conversation he was playing.

The Prime Minister inadvertently finds himself, through an intriguing plot twist, schooling Jyzabel Lyft in the art of political machinations. What you see happening in Parliament probably has little connection to the players’ motivations. Backbencher MPs who are colorful characters are particularly useful for introducing inflammatory private member’s bills that distract attention from the Prime Minister’s real agenda.

Just as a James Bond villain spends hours explaining his philosophy and motivations to Bond, the Prime Minister goes into great detail about his political and economic philosophies to Jyzabel. Michael Healey as the playwright explains a particular brand of neo-conservatism so well, that one might be tempted to think it is the playwright’s own belief (which I doubt). But there’s no particular reason that neo-conservatism has to be placed alongside strident and anachronistic bleatings; neo-conservatism can and does have an intellectual basis, and Healey wants us to understand what that is. Healey states in this video that his intention is to open a conversation about Canadian values.

The Prime Minister represents the repressed Superego (the Rational Man), and Jyzabel represents the libidinous Id (often known as Woman, or Eve). Because North American understanding of psychology has moved beyond Freud, this division seems simplistic. But for a comedy that works in broad satirical strokes, simplistic characters are often easier to work with than complex nuanced ones. And the play is effective in getting you to think about what motivates Stephen Harper and what his true ideologies and motivations might be.

Healey refers to George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (which you might know as “My Fair Lady”). I see Shaw’s influences in the long, philosophical digressions. And a typical Shaw character is a woman who presents as stupid, but who expresses great and timeless truths.

It was difficult for me as a feminist viewer to see a central woman character (the only woman in this play, and one of the very few women politicians in theatre productions) who is promiscuous and lacking in intelligence (even if she is not so stupid as she seems). Not because it is impossible for such a woman to exist, but because she represents such banal stereotypes of women who have attained power. What if I choose to see this as a male politician’s fantasy? Hmmm.

Despite my unease, I am glad to have seen the play. I appreciate that it brings political philosophies (rather than the “feelings” so readily dismissed by the Prime Minister character) to the fore, while still being very funny indeed. Go and see it!

 

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