By Michael Healey. Directed by Donna Spencer. A Firehall Arts Centre production. At the Firehall on Wednesday, April 9. Continues until April 26
Proud works well as a sitcom. As a satire, not so much. But what the hell. You’ll still have a really good time.
In Michael Healey’s script, it’s 2011 and the Harper government has won a landslide majority—including the 59 Quebec seats that went NDP in real life. Harper, who is simply called the Prime Minister in the script, is working out a parliamentary seating plan with Cary, his chief of staff, when they’re interrupted by Jisbella Lyth, a new MP who’s trying to find a condom so that she can bang the CBC’s Evan Solomon.
Unable to force Jisbella to resign, the PM decides to use her ebullience as a distraction: “Whenever we want to do something difficult, we’ll make sure you’re doing something stupid.” But Jisbella is a stronger force than he anticipates, and there’s comic gold in watching the socially awkward PM and the unleashed MP bounce off one another. Just wait for the scene in which Jizz—that’s her nickname—and helmet head turn one another on by talking dirty about (fiscal) restraints.
This is the production that’s going to let all of Vancouver see just what a sensational comic actor Emmelia Gordon is. She is so on her game and so responsive; she’s riding the text like she’s flying on a trapeze and she’s having the time of her life.
Craig Erickson is a wonderfully dry, authoritative straight man as Cary. And Andrew Wheeler is fantastic as the PM, leaning so far into Harper’s uptightness it’s amazing he can still breathe. At one point, the PM is on the brink of marital infidelity. Just wait till you hear Wheeler’s enthusiastic reading of “I want to be just like people!”
As satire, the script works when it’s playing with Harper’s Machiavellian manipulativeness. And it’s brimming with gags. Jisbella tells the PM that her seven-year-old son wants to meet one of the parliamentarians: “He says John Baird has a baby’s head on a grown-up’s body and he’s fascinated by it.”
Then, after a bumptious beginning, the play enters a long stretch that’s boring and confusing. The problems arise because, as he delves deeper politically, playwright Healey gets things disconcertingly wrong. Healey’s Harper simply exploits ideological issues such as gun control and prison expansion to get enough power to reduce the size of government. “Tighten things up just a little bit and suddenly you have to make a few more choices,” he reasons. “Debate becomes important again, people become engaged politically.” This is the end point of his argument.
But in what universe does Stephen Harper or any variation on Stephen Harper want to encourage debate? The guy is notorious for his steel-fisted control over his MPs, he has prorogued parliament and muzzled government scientists, he demeans artists and intellectuals, and he introduced the so-called Fair Elections Act.
Yes, Harper is a strategist, but he is clearly also a moral ideologue—not to mention a stony-hearted capitalist—who is far more interested in shutting down debate than encouraging it.
In Proud, it isn’t until a character named Jake delivers the play’s final speech that we see any of the consequences of the PM’s choices. By that point, the Harper character has been in power for 20 years and the North has been pillaged. But what about the damage that Harper is doing to the fabric of Canadian society?
So Proud is far from being a thorough satirical success. Still, seamlessly directed by Donna Spencer, lots of the show is funny and it’s a real pleasure to be able to laugh at Canadian politics in the theatre.