Satire unstuffs PM’s shirt
THE influx of younger female members of parliament to Ottawa after the 2011 election has elevated sexual tensions on Parliament Hill and on Canadian stages. On the day news broke that two male Liberal MPs had been suspended amid accusations of harassing female parliamentarians, Michael Healey’s entertaining political parody Proud opened with a fictional female MP also seemingly a victim of chauvinism. Proud has become a talker across the country for its depiction of Prime Minster Stephen Harper, called the “nerdiest prime minister in the history of Canada, mashed potatoes stuffed inside a suit.” There is much fun had at Harper’s expense, and the Rachel Browne Theatre, where Theatre Projects opened its 25th season Thursday, was filled with continuous laughter. The treatment of women is currently in the media’s glare, and Healey’s sexist representation of MP and single mother Jisbella Lyth arrives at an inopportune time. She makes a hilariously memorable entrance, barging into the prime minister’s office in search of a condom, in anticipation of having sex with an onair CBC personality (no, not that CBC personality). This easy woman in red high heels is immediately dismissed as a dangerous loose cannon by the stonefaced Harper and his soulless chief of staff, Cary Baines. They concoct a blackmail plan to turf her, but she outflanks them and agrees to become their willing political decoy. The female character is presented as foul-mouthed, slutty and dumb, which is unfortunate. A reading of the play suggests she gets ahead by using her gender to distract in the male-dominated halls of power. Healey’s main treat for Proud audiences is gaining us entry to the prime minister’s inner sanctum — replicated accurately, with Canadian flags, a photo of the Queen and a statue of John A. Macdonald, by set designer Brian Perchaluk. Whether the political shenanigans are accurate or not, they work as a grand spectacle. Harper’s negative attributes are served up amusingly. The legendary control freak demands a seating plan in the House of Commons so that he doesn’t have to meet the gaze of any party member he has a disagreement with, ever. His no-fun image is confirmed when he announces that the bar during the victory celebration will be open for 45 minutes. The core of Proud is a Pygmalioninspired story in which Harper plays teacher to the student Lyth and we become privy to the Tory party’s media tactics and marketing strategies. Her earthy joie de vivre from La Belle Province is a counterpoint to his staid, socially awkward and humourless persona, the qualities that are often attributed to the other solitude. Healey colours in the fuzzy picture we have of the prime minister, serving up a Harper who articulates a clear vision of this country. He sounds reasonable and almost appealing; no small accomplishment for the Toronto playwright best known for his brilliant work The Drawer Boy. Under the sure hand of director Ardith Boxall, the 90-minute satire hums along. The central performances are outstanding: Ross McMillan is thoroughly believable as the prime minister, in appearance as well as in his deadpan delivery and physical awkwardness; Daria Puttaert as his sexy protegé is more calculating than she seems. Her comic timing and go-forthe-gusto energy drive the play. Eric Blais is convincing as the ultrapartisan Baines, but a fourth character, played by Kevin P. Gabel, does not fit snugly with the rest of Proud. It seems his mission is to scare us with the thought that Harper will still be in office in 2029, and that the electorate better wake up to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Andy Fraser (Eric Schweig, right) talks to his son Alan Fraser (Justin Rain) while in prison trying to elude a murder charge.