HOSANNA by Michel Tremblay, translated by Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay, directed by Wendy Thatcher, with Alastair Hudson and Tony Nappo. Presented by Shockalot Productions at Tallulah's Cabaret (12 Alexander). Previews Tuesday (March 13), opens Wednesday (March 14) and runs to March 25, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $15-$20, preview $7.50. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNNNN
wendy thatcher knew she had to choose -- either become a bitter actor or channel her talents in another direction.
"Now the truth comes out," the Shaw veteran wails, rolling her big blue eyes with perfect comic timing before attacking an egg roll.
"I've seen so many untalented people trying to direct, and I thought, "If that jerk-off can do it, I can, too.' So often an academic type gets to run a production" (here she pounds the restaurant table for angry emphasis) "and we actors get trampled in the process. I don't want to be walked over by those fucks. It's time I had some power."
But the veteran of 34 years on the stage knew she couldn't just walk over and sit in the director's chair. Thatcher needed some confidence, and applied to Drama Studio London, England (Emily Watson studied there), in directing.
"I spent 1997 at the school. It was hard and intimidating -- there were six 22-year-olds and me in the course."
But Thatcher couldn't break in when she returned to Canada. A few Rhubarb shows and a successful production of Bag Babies at the Alumnae Theatre didn't bring in any offers.
"It was sink or bloody swim. Then I remembered my final school project in London, Michel Tremblay's Hosanna, which had such an impact on me when I saw it in the 70s in Toronto."
It wasn't that English-language version -- which premiered with Richard Monette as the transvestite title figure and was revived under Monette's direction with Geordie Johnson -- that Thatcher staged. She opted for the Scots translation by Canadian Martin Bowman and Scotsman Bill Findlay.
Strange to interpret the Quebecois Tremblay in Scots? Apparently not. Eleven of his plays have made the transition, including Les Belles Soeurs, presented as The Guid Sisters at the World Stage Festival. This is the Scots Hosanna's first professional production outside of Glasgow.
"It's so funny in the Scots, and I think the translation from French to Scots is more colourful, earthy and rich than the English translation. Apart from a few swear words like "gob-shite,' the dialect isn't a problem, and our Canadian ears are practised in the Scots dialect after films like Trainspotting.
"If anyone has a problem," she says, switching easily into a Scottish brogue, "I'll have a wee glossary in the program."
Producing the play on her own, Thatcher brought over Alastair Hudson, her London Hosanna, and paired him with Tony Nappo as his leather-loving biker partner, Cuirette. Still set in Montreal, the script focuses on Hosanna's disastrous Halloween drag ball adventure dressed as Elizabeth Taylor in the film Cleopatra.
"It's such a sweet play underneath the bitching," notes Thatcher, "with a lot of love between the two. It's about the difficulty of being able to love and feeling that you can be loved for yourself, that you don't have to put on facades.
"I don't look at it, the way some do, as a political allegory. You can't direct or act allegory.
"Most importantly, it's wildly hysterical and campily fun. We don't have enough humour in the theatre these days."
Humour has always mattered to Thatcher. As early as 1980's A Mad World, My Masters, she played another Thatcher -- Margaret -- seducing and metaphorically castrating union workers as she stripped down until only a union jack covered her crotch.
Her notable work at the Shaw Festival -- she's back next season -- includes Village Wooing with partner Michael Ball. The pair also appeared in John Palmer's unjustly neglected A Day At The Beach, where she played a tough young dyke to Ball's shy queer in the first act, and then both returned in the second as the teens' worried parents.
Will her new directing career take over from performing?
"I'll never let go of acting," she says with shock. "It's my first love and comes naturally, while directing can be terrifying. But I refuse simply to sit and bitch. You move forward or you stay still and die." *