Satire un­stuffs PM’s shirt

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Kevin Prokosh

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.

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