CANADIAN PACIFIC SCANDAL written and directed by Michael Hollingsworth (VideoCabaret). At the Cameron House (408 Queen West). Limited run. $15-$30. See Continuing, page 86. 416-703-1725. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
In Michael Hollingsworth's view of Canadian history, John A. Macdonald has a red nose not just because we always see him with liquor bottle in hand. He's also a first-class clown, the 19th-century version of The Simpsons' self-serving Krusty.
VideoCabaret is back with another instalment in writer/director Hollingsworth's refreshingly wacky look at our colourful past. Canadian Pacific Scandal weaves together three 1870s stories about the rivalry between the Conservatives under Macdonald ( Greg Campbell ) and the Grits led by teetotaller Alexander Mackenzie ( Richard Alan Campbell ); Liberal up-and-comer Wilfrid Laurier ( Paul Braunstein ) battling wannabe leader Edward Blake ( Jim Jones ); and the innocent, increasingly disturbed Louis Riel ( Herbie Barnes ).
Tying the tales together are the scandal around the Canadian Pacific Railway contract (early Gomery Commission, anyone?), the theme of bribes and the seemingly infinite uses of plaid by costume designers Astrid Janson , Julie Renton and Sarah Armstrong , topped by Alice Norton 's fantasy-tinged wigs.
The production is dead on in its satiric send-ups of the mostly venal characters, and the seven cast members playing more than 25 figures know how far to push the comic envelope. That's pretty much into the next county, with Hollingsworth's short scenes and fast blackouts well served by Andy Moro 's lighting and set design, following Jim Plaxton 's original model.
The women in the company etch portraits just as sharply as do the men. Newcomer Kerry Ann Doherty is Laurier's naive wife and Riel's secretive beloved; Linda Prystawska plays a pair of femme fatales Emilie Lavergne (whose bodice is a black web, complete with spider), and a vampiric, horned nun who takes delight in torturing the already mentally mutilated Riel.
And where else can you get a Canadian history lesson that draws on Gilbert and Sullivan, Funny Girl and The Wizard Of Oz?