Michel Tremblay's Hosanna, a landmark Canadian play of the 70s, gets a facelift in a revival by Pleiades Theatre.
Director John Van Burek knows just how to apply makeup to this two-hander, for he and the late Bill Glassco translated the script for the historic Tarragon production featuring Richard Monette and Richard Donat.
Its characters are the title figure, a Montreal drag queen who idolizes Liz Taylor's Cleopatra, and his biker lover, Cuirette.
"Michel wrote the play in part as a political metaphor about Quebec society," says Van Burek. "It's still a play about identity rather than a gay play, though he uses the gay world as his central image. It's about a society that can't make up its mind who or what it is, and for me it's still applicable to the Canadian identity.
"Still, the play has always resonated on a human level, too."
Van Burek intends the production to be a tribute to Glassco, who directed the Tarragon production.
Hosanna was one of the first Canadian plays to have a national and international profile, touring the country and going to New York. Before that, notes Van Burek, Tremblay's work was pretty much isolated in Quebec.
"It's no surprise given the flamboyance of the characters. Hosanna's usually the focus of the piece, but this time around Cuirette is as big a queen as Hosanna. The only difference is that he wears black leather.
"The Tarragon did it again about 20 years ago with Geordie Johnson and Denis O'Connor," recalls the director, who also directed a 1986 French production for Théâtre Français de Toronto. "For that we smoothed and anglicized some of the language, but now we're nudging it differently."
Makes sense. Van Burek's working with French-Canadian Jean-Stéphane Roy as Cuirette and Salvatore Antonio, a grad of Montreal's National Theatre School, as Hosanna.
"It's always struck me that the exoticism of this work increases the interest in it, and having the actors sound French Canadian increases their exoticism; they're more marginalized, more poignant.
"It's not often that an accent helps a translation, but this is an instance where it does."
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What a treat last week to see Honouring Theatre, a trio of native plays from Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Though they shared themes, each brought an original voice to the telling of their tales.
Nice that the festival, organized for Canada by Native Earth's Yvette Nolan, focused on the women in each aboriginal culture, with two of the three plays by female playwrights and most of the characters women. Each of the plays looks at what it's like to be a second-class citizen, whether it's because the characters are native or female - or both.
Writer/director Nolan's Annie Mae's Movement, about native activist Anna Mae Aquash, is a reworked version of an earlier script, and it's tighter and stronger this time around. Michelle St. John is striking and powerful in the title role, with Grahame Merke as the various men - some sympathetic, most not - in her tragically short life.
Frangipani Perfume looks at a trio of sisters, played by Fiona Collins, Joy Vaele and Dianna Fuemana, who move from their island homeland to New Zealand to become domestic workers and help their ailing father. Makerita Urale's script, directed by Rachel House, uses movement and text to look at topics as diverse as anthropologist Margaret Mead, lesbianism and Einstein.
The key image here is that in trying to make everything white, the cleaners themselves constantly feel dirty. The only white that's actually cleansing is the memory of fragrant frangipani blossoms from their childhood, suggesting a paradise they no longer inhabit.
The most moving of the shows is Australian David Milroy's Windmill Baby, a monologue for the wonderful Pauline Whyman. Playing an elderly woman who returns to her home to put to rest ghosts from her past, she relies on lively storytelling and the assistance of guitarist Adam Fitzgerald to bring sensuality, warmth and emotion to Milroy's fine script.