Photo. Maria Vartanova
When Hosanna by Michel Tremblay first appeared in French in 1973, it was often considered a metaphor for Quebec’s search for identity during the Quiet Revolution. Today, some 43 years after its explosive debut, it is more likely to be viewed as the gay equivalent of the rocky relationship between George and Martha (played by Elizabeth Taylor) in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
The play has a similar intensity and similar expressions of cruelty and, ultimately, of an enduring love that transcends the bitterness and squalor of daily life. Hosanna offers a more hopeful ending, but both plays deal with stripping away pretence and the layers of falsehood to come to a core of truth.
In the TotoToo Theatre production of Hosanna, directed by Jim McNabb, Barry Daley, in the title role, and John Collins as his biker/stud partner capture every emotion and connection in their fine and well-contrasted performances.
Daley, as the flamboyant, grotesquely made-up drag queen in his intentionally tawdry Cleopatra gear, and Collins, more subtle and withdrawn, in leather jacket, boots and jeans, are a terrific team — as they were in a previous TotoToo production, Confessions of a Mad Drag Queen.
As Hosanna/Claude, Daley must work through being humiliated at a costume party, arranged by his jealous “friends,” including Cuirette, overcome his obsession with film star Elizabeth Taylor and come to terms with his dysfunctional relationship with his mother, before he can move on to a healthy relationship with Cuirette. Only after he has conquered his identity crisis will his hard won self-knowledge allow him to relax into love.
Meanwhile, Collins has the equally difficult task of preserving a tough-guy image and minimizing the expression of his feelings for Hosanna. Yet, such actions as quietly massaging Hosanna’s shoulder as she speaks or turning away from her on an exit line as he mumbles words of love tell his story extremely effectively.
Good technical backup in terms of Grant Dolan’s set design and Michael Tower’s costumes complete the picture of this powerful and touching production.
Hosanna continues at Live on Elgin (220 Elgin) to January 30.
By Michel Tremblay
Translated by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco
Director: Jim McNabb
Set: Grant Dolan