Starring Michael Healey, Maev Beaty. Written by Michael Healey. Directed by Miles Potter. Berkeley Street Theatre, to Oct. 6.
Next to the backlash over Factory Theatre’s firing of Ken Gass, the biggest controversy in Toronto theatre this year has been the Tarragon’s refusal to produce Proud. Michael Healey’s new play about the Harper government was apparently so inflammatory that it had the company fearing a legal reprisal. Healey, undaunted, has gone ahead and staged it himself.
His hilarious production, crisply directed by Miles Potter, reveals that the piece is indeed a scathing satire of Stephen Harper and his politics. However, the playwright takes his cue from George Bernard Shaw—whose Pygmalion gives Proud its premise—and lets his villain make some eloquent and persuasive arguments. And the likable Healey (more Joe Clark than Harper) plays the role of the prime minister himself, showing him by turns to be a razor-sharp economist, a Machiavellian politician, and a sympathetically awkward and repressed man.
The play unfolds in an alternate-reality Canada, where the Tories have won a whopping majority in the 2011 election. When the control-freak PM encounters a loose cannon among his rookie MPs—blue-collar single mom Jisbella Lyth (a ballsy Maev Beaty)—he decides to mould her into an effective cog in his federal machine. But Jisbella, who is savvier than she appears, soon has the leader over a barrel (and on top of his desk, when she discovers his secret lust for her). Still, if Proud sometimes comes close to a sex farce, its purpose is serious. This is the work of a writer passionately concerned about the future of his country.