Friday, 14 November 2014

Michael Healey's PROUD - A Contemporary Canadian Political Satire

Imagine it's 2011 all over again and the Conservative Party of Canada has just been elected to a majority government, but instead of just taking most of Ontario and the West, they also manage to scoop up a bunch of new MPs from Quebec. This unlikely scenario forms the foundation of Michael Healey's "PROUD", a satirical play about Prime Minister Harper's control of the Canadian Government.

The actor playing PM Harper, Ross McMillan, is so convincing with his speech and mannerisms that the play made me think, "What if Stephen Harper actually manipulates his MPs like that?"

The real PM's control-freak style is well-documented in Canadian media and it's clear that this play uses that grain of truth to create a thought-provoking scenario.

In this scenario, one of the new Quebec MPs, Jisbella Lyth (Daria Puttaert), is a political amateur with unprofessional tendencies that the PM and his chief of staff look to capitalize on. She enters the play in a scene where she asks PM Harper and Cary Baines (Eric Blais), the chief of staff, if either of them has a condom. It was a very odd and unimaginable scene that portrayed her as flamboyant and promiscuous. Most of the character development in the play has to do with Jisbella Lyth realizing her power as a female Member of Parliament.

In my opinion, this character is overly sexualized. From the outset, there is an odd lust triangle between the PM, Baines and Lyth. It almost seemed as if Lyth had a different sexual escapade in every scene. This did create some depth, but it also seemed to demean a character who, in other ways, is actually politically astute and savvy enough to protect her own political future.

The cynicism that oozes through Michael Healey's latest theatrical venture is jarring to those of us who tune in to the daily happenings of Parliament. The question is whether I found this cynicism too extreme or perfect for this political satire.

At one point, the protagonist, PM Harper, espouses just how little he cares about issues like crime, abortion, the CBC and even the monarchy; saying that instead he really just wants to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio to 25 per cent. This flies in the face of the ideological, conservative perception that most people have of the current Prime Minister.

The cynicism is even more apparent when it comes to the PM's use of media and the notion that hard-hitting journalism is something that needs to be distracted by emotional news about divisive topics like abortion.

As someone who doesn't frequent the theatre, I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting and engaging this play is. It was an exaggerated statement on the current condition of our federal government. I can't help but think that Healey must really fear another decade of PM Harper, as the play does show a dystopian view of Canada's political future under such a scenario.

After the play there was 15 minutes of talkback where the audience was able to ask questions of the actors and the director, Ardith Boxall. This was great for a bit of background, but it also may have removed some of the intrigue from the play. It was interesting to hear McMillan explain his fascination with Stephen Harper, based on rather unflattering reasons. He said that PM Harper is an actor who never really lets the public see his true personality, which he finds easier to impersonate because he can play that role just as well.

The play was great for a laugh and engaging for any political junkies, especially those with a progressive perspective. It forces the viewer to go somewhere most Canadians would probably never want to go - inside the head of Prime Minister Harper. While satirical, the use of non-fictional references and current issues asks the audience to think about the mindset of our head of state.

PROUD runs from Nov. 6 - 16 at the Rachel Browne Theatre in Winnipeg's Exchange District.
Showtimes and tickets can be found here: 

Here's a trailer for the play:

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