PROUD by Michael Healey, directed by Miles Potter. Presented by Proud Productions at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Previews tonight and tomorrow (Thursday-Friday, September 20-21), opens Saturday (September 22) and runs to October 6, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, mat Saturday 2:30 pm. $25-$40, Monday pwyc. 416-368-3110. See listing.
Writer Michael Healey is used to his plays' getting lots of attention - after opening night, that is.
But his latest script, Proud, the third instalment in his trilogy about Canadian values, generated waves of controversy after it was rejected by the Tarragon, a move that ended Healey's 10-year residency there and had Toronto theatregoers wondering what exactly was too hot to handle.
It wasn't sex or violence, but a graphic depiction of the Harper government in action - a third rail ever since the federal Tories swung their axe at SummerWorks for getting too political back 2009.
"I don't want to rehash the blow-by-blow with the Tarragon," says Healey on the phone from rehearsals, "but leaving there was a traumatic event. I lost my home one week, but then I discovered that there is a much larger community out there, and that was amazing."
Healey is referring to a series of work-in-progress readings of Proud that sprouted up across the country and served as fundraisers for this independent production.
Those audiences learned that the play features an unnamed Canadian prime minister (played by Healey, and clearly intended to be Stephen Harper) in an alternate universe where the 2011 federal election results in a Tory sweep of Quebec, requiring the PM to teach a new class of rookie MPs his cold, by-the-numbers political style.
"It's like Pygmalion in a lot of ways," says Healey of the PM's mentoring of Jisbella, a young, ambitious, single-mom MP. "That seemed to be the most efficient way of getting the PM to explain his core principles."
In preparing to write the script, Healey immersed himself in the literature, reading every book he could find about Harper and his governing style.
"I read everything from William Johnson's biography of him through Lawrence Martin's book about his first two years in office. Paul Wells was a great inspiration, too, and I read everything by John Ibbitson on national politics."
Healey stresses that his depiction of the PM is anything but a hatchet job. Rather, it's an assessment of what makes Harper unique in the history of Canadian political leadership.
"In the 1980s, Reagan and Thatcher created these conservative revolutions in their respective counties, but the Mulroney Conservatives were not actually conservative," he points out. "They aimed for the centre, but did so from the left. Harper was so frustrated that Canada missed the boat, he's been dogged and determined to turn the face of Canadian politics in that direction."
So what kind of leadership does Healey ultimately want for Canada?
"What I really want in my politics is inspiration. I want to be shown a vision for the country that is larger than the one I currently have in my head, and I want to buy into that vision and invest in it."