THE SASKATCHEWAN REBELLION written and directed by Michael Hollingsworth (VideoCabaret). At the Cameron House (408 Queen West). Indefinite run. $15-$30. 416-703-1725. See Continuing, page 83. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
In the Saskatchewan rebellion, writer/director Michael Hollingsworth continues to stage his own insurgence against boring old Canadian history textbooks.
For the seventh instalment of his satirical The History Of The Village Of The Small Huts series, Hollingsworth revisits 1885 Saskatchewan, when Sir John A. Macdonald struggled to build the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Métis and Cree peoples summoned Louis Riel for the North-West Rebellion.
In this remarkable madcap retelling, seven actors play 26 roles in 74 minutes. Every character is defined by a distinguishing quirk. Actor Paul Braunstein in particular excels at flushing out idiosyncrasies. His Trader Duck quacks when he speaks, and his recurring Donald Smith could use an asthma inhaler.
The cast re-enacts four military battles on a stage the size of a minivan - an impossible task without Hollingsworth's scrupulous direction and Andy Moro 's precise set and lighting design. Astrid Janson and Sarah Armstrong 's costumes miraculously allow swift changes in the dark, cramped backstage.
As for Alice Norton's wigs - especially John A. Macdonald's - well, just imagine if Frank Gehry were a hairdresser.
A problem with the show is its sustained manic intensity. At times the characters become one big mass of grimacing, howling caricatures. Only Michaela Washburn's wistful interpretations of Big Bear and Father André vary the show's energy.
Also, the many quotes from pop music lyrics, from the Doors to Sinatra, eventually lose their comic impact. The show's funniest moments stem from purely original ideas, like Riel's list of the provinces he'll bequeath to Europe when he conquers Canada. "I will give Quebec to Prussia... ," he begins.
Hollingsworth, who's fond of wordplay, deserves high praise for his enduring passion for Canadian history; he's keeping it Riel.