I just saw Video Cabaret's The Great War. It was amazing as usual (and the Star agrees). It's not quite the equivalent of a Passion Play, but if you squint there are some similarities. There are quite a few characters, and they all have to be introduced, so that the audience knows what is going on. There are actually a few interesting links. Apparently, while there are strong ideological ties between Robert Bourassa and Henri Bourassa (who was a newspaper publisher in Quebec who stirred up nationalist feelings amongst the Quebecois and who opposed conscription during WWI), they were not related. I guess Video Cabaret tried to subtly hint at this by not having the character who played Robert Bourassa (in the Trudeau plays from last season) play Henri Bourassa this time around. Instead it was the actor who played Jacques Parizeau, who played Henri Bourassa. (There is one small linkage to the rise of the FLQ in the way the phrase "That's right" is said (off-stage) when the young men of Quebec rally against conscription.) Actually now that I think about it, resisting conscription during WWI was a key subplot in MacLennan's Two Solitudes, where Marius Tallard goes into hiding to resist the draft and there is quite a disagreement amongst the neighbours on how to react, which not surprisingly breaks down along ethnic lines.
Mac Fyfe, who absolutely owned the previous plays as Pierre Elliot Trudeau, is very good here as a sensitive lieutenant as well as the Duke of Connaught (Governor General of Canada), but I would say the play largely revolves around Rick Campbell, playing Colonel Arthur Currie, who seemed to be a military mind who actually knew what he was doing. He was very good last year, but he really shines brighter here. There are certainly comic moments, though some of the comedy is actually quite bitter, as we see the politicians back home maneuvering in relative comfort while the soldiers are ordered to make one suicidal charge after another. Appropriately, there are few very comic moments when the focus in on the soldiers in the trenches (aside from their visit to a brothel while on leave), so in that sense it is not quite the same as Blackadder IV where almost all the comic bickering takes place on or near the Front. Actually, while the violence is stylized, it is still a pretty dark play, and it probably is not appropriate to take small children. (There was a small child behind me who was a bit traumatized.) Even my son is probably a bit too sensitive for this play. Anyway, the play runs through May 14, though tickets are already on the scarce side, so get a move on if you want to see this. More information and a link to the box office here.
I'm not exactly sure of their plans and if they will cycle through a third time or not. From this page, it looks as though they started up again with the cycle in 2000, then after The War of 1812 (which I am sorry I missed but I wasn't going to fly to Toronto or Stratford just for that), they jumped to the two Trudeau plays, which is where I came in. (Apparently, I could have caught WWII on its first go around in 1994, but I just wasn't that aware of Video Cabaret at the time. Too bad.)
Next year they are going to do the 4 plays
covering Confederation through the Saskatchewan Rebellion or 1861-1885, though they have already done them in the second cycle. That might make it more feasible to mount so many plays.
Anyway, I can't wait. I'll probably take my son and perhaps even my daughter
to two of them (Confederation and perhaps The Canadian Pacific Scandal), though I'll also encourage the school to consider sending the class to see Confederation. I'll also see if the planners in my office want to go as a group to The Canadian Pacific Scandal.
After that, I really don't know if they will redo Mackenzie King or launch into WWII and the Cold War. (Putting on WWII and the Cold War in one season would be an awesome pairing -- hint, hint.) It might take a while for me to see the whole cycle, but if they are game to go around a third time, I am as well.