Michael Healey’s play Proud, currently at the Belfry Theatre (February 11-March 9, 2014) is an outrageous, provocative, sexy and very funny tale of the behind-the-scenes political machinations of Canada’s prime minister.
Proud has been surrounded by controversy since it’s inception. Healey (author of The Drawer Boy—seen at the Belfry in 2000) was the playwright-in-residence at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre; he resigned when Proud was pulled from the 2012 season, and went on to produce his own staged-reading at Theatre Passe Muraille. The Belfry production is only the second time to the stage for this witty and satirical look at Canadian politics.
Proud re-imagines the 2011 Federal election where instead of the NDP winning 59 seats in Quebec, those seats have gone to the Conservatives, handing them the second largest majority in Canadian history, and an embarrassment of rookie M.P.s, including Jisbella Lyth (Celine Stubel) from the riding of Cormier-Lac Poule.
There’s an enormous amount of sketch and stand-up comedy written about Canadian politics, but seldom are we treated to a full length play—in recent memory the more earnest Fortunate Son by Peter Boychuk played the Victoria and Vancouver Fringe Festivals in 2011.
Fast-paced, witty and with just the right touch of vulgarity, Proud stands every pre-conceived notion about politics, and particularly the current Prime Minister, on its head.
Think of a shibboleth, and consider it demolished. Single mothers, propriety in office, the role of women in politics, political naïveté, the character of the Prime Minister, morals, and class fall under the onslaught of one clever line after the other. And, just when the audience has settled in to the notion of a comedy about politics, Healey gets serious and sends the Prime Minister off on long theoretical and philosophical discussions about public policy, economics and the search for meaning.
Directed by Glynis Leyshon with characteristic flare and great physical panache, Proud pairs a stuffy Anglophone male Prime Minister—played to rigid perfection by Rick Roberts—and a liberated and free-wheeling female Francophone backbencher. This comedic juxtaposition had the audience howling from the initial send-up when Jisbella Lyth stumbles tipsily into the Prime Minister’s office after the victory speech.
Proud is a highly nuanced, entertaining and conflicting examination of stereotype that is sure to disturb Conservative backers and detractors alike. Leyshon has been careful to play up the comedic elements— Roberts and Stubel rise magnificently to the challenge (the sweater scene is reminiscent of the finest vaudeville)—while balancing the pacing required for the more cerebral scenes. Roberts waxes poetical and Stubel sums up his loquacious ruminations in a succinct, earthy and altogether pithy bon-mot.
It’s role-bending at its finest—the constant question “who is the pupil, and who is the student?”
Charlie Gallant, as the PM’s chief of staff Cary, is an adept foil to Roberts’ and Stubel’s pas-de-deux. His interventions add another element of sizzle to an already sparkling dialogue.
Seated audience-left for the majority of the play, a young mysterious stranger Jake (Kieran Wilson) makes brief forays onstage until his epilogue—full of un-expected twists and turns.
Pam Johnson’s powerful and contemporary design focuses attention in singular fashion—nothing detracts for the action happening in the Prime Minister’s office. Costumes are elegant and, particularly in the case of Jisbella, make a strong visual statement. Projections (Jamie Nesbitt) are used effectively to expand the story line beyond the confines of this one room.
Proud forces audiences to confront judgement. Ultimately this portrait of a Prime Minister and his rookie backbencher leaves us with empathy for the all-too-human foibles of the political class, and the realization that appearances can be deceiving. People do not always fit the pigeon-holes we so conveniently place them in.
Proud by Michael Healey directed by Glynis Leyshon
Belfry Theatre, Gladstone Avenue
February 11th-March 9th, 2014
Rick Roberts – Prime Minister
Celine Stubel – Jisbella Lyth
Charlie Gallant – Cary
Kieran Wilson – Jake
Set & Costume Designer – Pam Johnson
Lighting Designer – Luc Prairie
Sound Designer – Tobin Stokes
Projection Designer – Jamie Nesbitt
Stage Manager – Caryn Fehr
Assistant Stage Manager – Ben Cheung
Prior to and throughout the run of Proud, the Belfry is producing a number of audience engagement events designed to enhance and extend the experience of the play.
B4Play – Saturday, February 1 at 11 am
CBC Radio’s Gregor Craigie will host a live talk show featuring artists from Proud and some very special community guests. This free event is at the Belfry Theatre.
Afterplay (February 11 – 15 / February 25 – March 1)
Following selected performances of Proud, we’ll host Afterplay – a facilitated discussion where patrons can share their thoughts with fellow audience members. It’s a chance to “debrief” after the show and hear how other audience members experienced the play.
In collaboration with the Greater Victoria Public Library we’ll be hosting Belfry at the Library where we delve into the themes of the show and give people a behind the scenes look at the making of Proud.
We’ll be at the Bruce Hutchinson Branch (4636 Elk Lake Drive, Saanich Commonwealth Place) on Friday, February 14 from 10:30 am to 11:15 am and at the Central Branch (735 Broughton Street) Friday, February 21 from 10:30 am to 11:15 am.
ASL Performance – February 23 at 2pm
An American Sign Language (ASL) interpreted performance for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Certified interpreters, standing to the left side of the stage, interpret the script and language used by the actors at the same time it is being performed.
VocalEye Performance – March 2 at 2 pm
Audio describers provide descriptions of the visual elements of the show, allowing people with low vision to enjoy the theatrical experience without missing any of the details. Following the performance there is a touch tour of the set.
Disclaimer: I was offered tickets to the premiere of Proud. I was not asked nor was I required to write a review. As always, I retain full editorial control over all content published on this website.