Thursday, May 21, 2015

Trudeau and the rewriting of history

Two years back I saw a very amusing show at the Vancouver Fringe.  It was just titled Pump Trolley Comedy presents The History of Canada.  And over the course of 60-70 minutes they distilled all kinds of amusing facts about Canada and its political leaders.  While played for laughs, I did learn a fair bit.  Anyway, they covered a great deal of history, and I think they even snuck in a contemporary reference to the Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield.  Though as you might imagine, they have to compress things to the point where entire decades might only get a 2-minute sketch or vignette.

Michael Hollingsworth's epic 21-part play cycle The History of the Village of the Small Huts takes a very different approach, with each play usually covering 5-8 years, though it is certainly similar in that he has reframed and perhaps even rewritten history to highlight certain events and to elevate particular politicians and their political philosophies.  To date, he stopped with Brian Mulroney and the impact of the tag team of Thatcher and Reagan on Canada.  While it might be too depressing, I would be interested to see if he eventually writes new plays to cover Chrétien and then Harper.  There is no question the period of time in Canadian history I am most interested in is the Trudeau era, so I am definitely in luck that Video Cabaret is doing both plays that cover his rise to Prime Minister (Trudeau and the FLQ) and then his attempts to defuse Quebec separatism (Trudeau and Levesque).  I definitely made the right call in watching them in chronological order (I see the second play next week).  Again, I'd say I learned a fair bit, even if some of the so-called history was a bit fictionalized or dramatized (naturally).*  If Video Cabaret does put on the Mulroney play next season, I'll definitely go.

There is no question that Hollingsworth was a big fan of Trudeau, putting him in a favorable light at almost all times, even making him seem a bit tormented by having to more or less declare martial law in Montreal to deal with the separatists (What would Caesar do, he asks himself).  I do wonder if in this version, they cut a line on reforming the Senate while Trudeau is canoeing and pondering the intricacies of Constitutional reform.  It might have been seen as too topical.  While you can imagine Hollingsworth drawing a caricature of Harper as everything that Trudeau hated, Trudeau did find himself willing to suspend civil rights when the chips were down (and it seems to only take a couple of people killed then as now to cause politicians to lose their heads).  While I was extremely disappointed with Justin Trudeau supporting Bill C-51 (despite saying he would amend it if he came into power later -- and even letting the Liberal Senators try to amend it or vote it down in a futile attempt to slow the bill), this stance isn't all that far from his father's, at least according to what Hollingsworth represents as having gone down in the late 60s.  I think the truth is that governments are simply unwilling to concede anything in the name of security, for the simple reason that so many voters care far more about security than civil rights, which is a sad state of affairs.

At any rate, the actor playing Trudeau is great, and I also thought the revolutionary Maurice was a particularly effective role.  I would highly recommend this play, which has been held over another week.  I will even recommend (sight unseen) the sequel, Trudeau and Levesque.

What I don't care for is the theatre space itself.  It got extremely hot, and the seats were very cramped.  I kept bumping legs with neighbours on both sides.  I'll suffer through this one more time next week, but I know it will be an uncomfortable experience.  I guess every now and then I do some suffering in the name of art, and this will be no exception.

* For that matter, there is almost no discussion of import about events in the west (which obviously would have to change if Hollingsworth did tackle Harper some day) or in the Maritimes after the first batch of plays.  That is a fair criticism raised by this reviewer.

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