Andrew Wheeler, Emmelia Gordon

Michael Healey’s play Proud is most famous for not having been produced in the first place at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, for whom it was written, due it seems to the perceived threat of a libel suit (or worse, loss of government funding). However, nothing creates interest and celebrity in these days of social media faster than censorship, self-inflicted or otherwise. So, the defenders of artistic freedom have mounted productions in Toronto, Ottawa, and Victoria, and currently in Vancouver at the Firehall Arts Centre

Overall, this is a very funny satire that deserves both its public profile and the attention of theatre goers. It raises important issues regarding the practice of politics in Canada and the acquiescence of the voting public in the way politics gets done.  

At the outset of the play, the Prime Minister is portrayed as a control freak, vindictive, manipulative, and scheming. But does it really matter? Every successful Prime Minister since Sir John A. MacDonald has demonstrated craftiness, ruthlessness when required, the ability to manipulate people and events to their own ends, and deviousness.

Would Prime Minister Harper be offended by this portrayal? No doubt parts of it. Parts of it he should like. As other reviewers have pointed out, in the hands Mr. Healey and Mr. Wheeler, the PM becomes over the course of 90 minutes a decidedly much more sympathetic and human character than he is normally portrayed. He is even seen as being kind to small children. 

To quote from the program notes: This play begins shortly after the 2011 Canadian federal election. It deviates from the reality in several ways, including this way: instead of the NDP winning 59 seats in Quebec, those seats have gone to the Conservatives. 

Craig Erickson, Andrew Wheeler, Emmelia Gordon
[Craig Erickson, Andrew Wheeler, Emmelia Gordon]

One of those seats is won by single mom Jisbella Lyth (Emmelia Gordon), a former restaurant manager with no previous political experience. In the opening scene, she interrupts a meeting between the Prime Minister (Andrew Wheeler) and his Chief of Staff, Cary (Craig Erickson). Jisbella is looking for a condom so that she can have sex with a certain well-known CBC journalist on the desk of her new Parliamentary office. 

The Prime Minister holds off on his initial intent to force her to resign, and instead uses her in a deception: she will introduce a controversial private member bill on abortion, to absorb the attention of the press and public, while the Prime Minister proceeds to quietly carry out some unpopular cuts to the size of government. 

Over time, he becomes the sorcerer and Jisbella the apprentice. Aided by his Chief of Staff, he teaches her about strategy and ethics, beliefs and feelings. During this time, the Prime Minister gives a couple of provocative and memorable speeches, in particular one in which he outlines all the things he does not care about — and the one thing he does. 

Mr. Wheeler owns the role of Prime Minister. From his wig to his posture to his mannerisms, he occupies this part completely. Mr. Erickson plays his role of Machiavellian Chief of Staff with aplomb. Ms. Gordon is splendid as an effective foil to the Prime Minister. There is some great interaction between the two characters late in the play (at one point Jisbella refers to the PM as “a box of mashed potatoes in a suit”). And when she proves to be an accomplished student of the art of politics, the PM concludes that perhaps he “mis-underestimated” her.   

A fourth character introduced late in the play is Jake (Scott Button), Jisbella’s son, now grown up and running for Parliament as an independent. He is a member of a future generation reflecting on the shortcomings of his parents’ generation. I found it hard to connect Jake’s role to the story. 

The decision of Tarragon Theatre to not produce this play is ironic in one respect, and that relates to the profane language used throughout. The dialogue often sounds like recess at my boy’s high school. And way back in those days, this play would have been without a doubt banned everywhere because of the language and sex jokes. How the times have changed!  

Proud is directed by Firehall’s Artistic Director, Donna Spencer. The set, a re-creation of the PM’s office, is designed by Pam Johnson, with costumes designed by Barbara Clayden and lighting by Alia Stephen
Proud continues at the Firehall Arts Centre through April 26. Photos by Pink Monkey Studios.

About Our Contributor Michael Pigeon

Michael Pigeon

Michael is a long-time Vancouver resident who's recently returned home after living abroad for over a decade. Michael enjoys reconnecting with Canadian culture through the Greater Vancouver theatre scene and being retired in a city that offers so many opportunities to live a healthy, engaged lifestyle.

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