Photo of Michael Healey: Amanda Lynne Ballard
Michael Healey’s “Proud” has been loudly publicized. Tarragon Theatre refused to put it on, allegedly fearing that it might bring a libel suit from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is the main character. With this kind of background, one would expect the play, a political satire about current political events and figures, to pack quite a sharp punch. However, Healey decides to take another approach. While the play is full of funny moments, it actually presents a very balanced view of the Prime Minister. Sure, he can be shrewdly calculating and socially awkward, but he’s also shown in moments of compassion and excitement. All this paints a very honest picture of a passionate man with clear goals.
The comedic timing, of both the script and actors, is superb and the performance was energetic throughout. However, despite its funny moments, I’m not sure the play actually said anything, controversial or otherwise, about the Prime Minister, the political party, or the state of politics in Canada. Although very funny, more risks would have been welcome to make Proud memorable.
What the play does really well is explain the strategies and tactics of the Conservative government, which is definitely not without its merits. Healey has mixed the Conservative and NDP’s successes into one. After a decisive victory, Harper has a cabinet full of rookies, the most interesting one being Jisabella Lyth, a seemingly air-headed young woman with strategy up her sleeve.The Conservative’s success, the play argues, is in their strategy and marketing. What this really comes down to is a big smoke screen: be controversial without actually offending anyone and, while the media is distracted, quietly go forth with your real goals. At one point, the Prime Minister goes on a rant about all of the things he doesn’t care about politically (abortion, Quebec, human rights, etc.). What he does care about – the only thing he cares about, politically – is making government smaller. Everything else the party does, including throwing the young Jisabella under the buss to distract the press with a private member’s bill about abortion, is a distraction.
Healey does a great job as Prime Minister Harper. He’s serious, shrewd, and a callous when he needs to be, and soft and vulnerable when he needs to be. However, the real star of the show has to be Jenny Young as the sexually aggressive young MP Jisabella. In a cast of actors with very good comedic timing, she is the best. Young is not afraid to sink into her character and it really pays off. During Harper’s rant about what he cares and doesn’t care about, she sits in a chair listening to him and not saying a word, yet our attention is still drawn to her and her presence doesn’t seem uncomfortable or awkward for a second.
So, with solid acting and a well-researched, funny script, why was I left cold at the end of Proud? I had laughed plenty, as had the people around me. The problem is that Healey stops short of actually saying something meaningful or new. It’s a story, albeit a funny one, without a purpose. There’s a lot of agreeing and polite discussion on stage for a play whose main character laments that Canadian society, and particularly politics, is afraid to get into any serious arguments. Harper is socially awkward – so what? The play doesn’t really provide a platform for further debate about Canadian politics or the role of satire and the media. It doesn’t make claims about any of those things, but rather lays out the current situation politely and in an orderly fashion.
Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable performance by some very good actors and provided for many laughs. Perhaps, though, Proud would have done better had it been the controversial bomb the Tarragon Theatre feared it would be.
Proud continues at the IGTC until September 29, 2013
THE CREATIVE TEAM