Dancing With Rage reminds us that Canadian political fury can be funny
By Mary Walsh. Directed by Andy Jones and Mary Walsh. Coproduced by Theatre Passe Muraille and the RCA Theatre Company. Copresented by the Firehall Arts Centre and Touchstone Theatre. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Wednesday, February 6. Continues until February 17
You’ve got to love Mary Walsh for reminding us that politics matter, that being Canadian matters—and that Canadian political fury can be screamingly funny.
In the main story line in Dancing With Rage, which is a solo show, Walsh becomes Marg Delahunty, who morphs, when the situation warrants, into Marg, Warrior Princess. (Many of the characters in Rage will be familiar to viewers of TV’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, in which Walsh starred for several seasons.) It turns out that when Marg was 16, she went to Expo 67 with her school choir and got knocked up. Back home in Newfoundland, her mom snatched the baby away and offered it for adoption. Now, years later, Marg is looking for her lost child. The stakes are high because she believes she’s going blind and she wants to see her “baby” before everything goes black.
What makes this story of teen pregnancy and visual impairment funny? Chiefly, the justified and unabashed vitriol with which Marg greets the characters that stand in her way or simply piss her off—everyone from the android on the phone company’s telephone interface to Rob Ford, John Baird, and Stephen Harper himself. At one point, a character notes that Harper’s speeches can be educational, adding, “and I bet they’d be even more enlightening in the original German.” The fury with Harper goes deep because it’s aimed not only at the politician, who is described here as a “lap dog of global oil”, but also at an electorate that gave the guy a majority right after his government was found to be in contempt of Parliament. The subtext of Rage is that, as global culture becomes increasingly hypnotized by corporate values, democracy is at stake and it’s time to snap the hell out of it.
Walsh’s irreverence applies to institutions—she describes Christmas as “our Lord’s revenge for the Crucifixion”—and to herself: struggling to contain the fat on her aging body in undergarments, she notes that there’s always a bit that “seeps out like some kind of fleshy Exxon Valdez”.
Underneath it all, there’s compassion and an understanding of the damage that misdirected anger can do. Marg tells her younger child, Lorraine, that her father’s family is “genocidally soul-sucking”. In Raine’s bruised response, we see the hurt that Marg’s rant is causing. And it’s gorgeous to watch the skill with which Walsh flips from one character to another.
Formally, this show spews goodies like a theatrical piñata. Walsh and her creative team use video, voice-over, puppets, and doughnuts ex machina. Not everything works. The Gilbert and Sullivan–style song about banking isn’t witty enough to justify its inclusion. And on opening night the back-and-forth between the video and live action was often clunky. Still, the sheer fecundity of the formal free-for-all is bracing.
In this era of bland and blind consumerism, I left the theatre pissed off—in a good way. I was reminded that I am not just a vaguely global Facebook citizen. I am also a Canadian citizen and my participation in Canadian democracy counts.