LAURIER written and directed by Michael Hollingsworth (VideoCabaret). At Cameron House (408 Queen West). Limited run. $15-$30. 416-703-1725. Rating: NNNN
Writer/director Michael Hollingsworth is literally making history again at the Cameron House with his VideoCabaret company production of Laurier, part 8 of a roguish tribute to Canada’s past subtitled The History Of The Village Of The Small Huts.
This time, Hollingsworth gleefully flips open his history textbook to 1885-1911, when Wilfred Laurier (Paul Braunstein) takes over the Liberal leadership and then becomes Canada’s first francophone prime minister. Wilfy (as he’s often called) also has an affair with Emilie LaVergne (Linda Prystawska) that produces illegitimate son Armand (Anand Rajaram) and creates much heartache for his wife, Zoe (Kerry Ann Doherty).
Braunstein plays the title character with a dynamic passion often lacking in politicians. While each of the other six cast members deftly performs multiple roles, standouts include Doherty’s tittering Zoe, with her pathetic perma-smile, Prystawska’s lascivious Emilie (decked out in Astrid Janson and Sarah Armstrong’s fanciful costume, with its suitably spidery décolletage) and Rajaram’s enfant terrible Armand, especially funny on his knees as a thumb-sucking five-year-old.
The play incorporates numerous accents and dialects while touching on controversies like free trade, public funding for separate schools and military involvement overseas. And if the highly stylized staging becomes slightly repetitive toward the end, the script remains masterfully concise.
Without ever sacrificing clarity, Hollingsworth bulldozes through the deaths of four prime ministers, taking the audience through 16 years of history in a hilarious heartbeat.
That he shoehorns all this onto a stage no larger than a downtown parking spot is a testament to his aptitude as a director and to the precise ensemble work of VideoCabaret.
Next up in the series is the chapter about the Great War, and like a fresh-faced military recruit, I’m looking forward to seeing some action.