February 4 – March 9, 2014
by Michael Healey
“Funny and foul-mouthed, yet surprisingly sweet.” Globe & Mail
“Dazzlingly witty, surgically precise and scathingly satirical.” Toronto Star
Award-winning playwright Michael Healey (The Drawer Boy) takes on his biggest subject yet: The Right Honourable Stephen Harper. His sexy, cheeky and surprising play will have you rolling in the aisles – regardless of your politics. You may even find yourself liking the man! Proud imagines a different outcome to the last Federal election – the Tories took Quebec and won a huge majority. A young, attractive and very inexperienced MP provides the Prime Minister with a new tool in his arsenal. Unfortunately for him – she may be the smartest man in the room!
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Audience Advisory: This production contains a lot of very strong language.
It’s Perfect Politics
Politics is not merely about who gets what, when, and how, as Harold Laswell noted some 75 years ago. Politics is one of the oldest games for clans or other groups strategizing how to better their friends or foes. Politics is messy and complicated, like a good relationship or book that you just cannot put down.
Thanks to our news cycle, we wait on the edge of our seats for the next story dishing the latest scandal or success by our representatives. In the era when the American media know who Rob Ford is and his actions read like a character out of Grand Theft Auto 5, we might agree that people have low expectations for politicians. Add to this the coverage of the various Senate scandals and we see that Canadian politics is anything but boring. Proud is timely and timeless for we know that each simple act by the government is never simple and always politically motivated. If we could glimpse into the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), what would we find? Supporters will argue that we will find a world leader hard at work, while detractors will note that the PMO continually distracts the public and listens hard to its financial benefactors and the political hegemon to the south.
Some might argue that formal Canadian politics today is a mix of success, sordid human failings, pride, and maneuvering by narcissistic players. Proud is a satire made all the more interesting because portions of it feel ripped from the headlines of past and present events in Ottawa. The playwright explores questions such as: How does the Prime Minister lead; what does he really think; and what would he do to support the party and country? How far would the Chief of Staff go to keep things running smoothly in the PMO? Do Members of Parliament play nice with the Prime Minister or are they calculating their next step or move up the political ladder?
Let’s examine the politicos on which Proud’s characters are based. The Prime Minister is the head of government and leads the executive branch of the government. In this play, the Prime Minister is presented as leading the country with an overwhelming mandate based on the sheer majority from the previous election.
The Chief of Staff essentially runs the office and is an integral part of the inner circle for the PM. Each PM might have a different leadership style, but the Chief of Staff and Principal Secretary are key players in the PMO. The Chief of Staff is the right hand of the Prime Minister, keeping things together and has historical memory for the PM and the party at large. A good Chief of Staff should be able to guess what the PM will need next. A good Chief of Staff is a skilled political player and knows the cost of the game. Part of this game is protecting the PM.
Thanks to the parliamentary system Canadian politics is party-centric. Each Member of Parliament represents their riding, but at times it feels like the mantra is “party first, riding second.” A new Member of Parliament is not only trying to maneuver her or his way around Ottawa, but also step carefully around the media and perform as a team player for the party leadership. Some MPs are better than others at following the party’s lead and these MPs are usually rewarded for their efforts. Likewise, MPs who embarrass the party are often punished in different ways and this will vary from the attention they get from the PMO and party at large.
In Proud we have a new MP who also happens to be a woman. A woman in formal Canadian politics might find herself the focus of scrutiny during the election in a different way than a male candidate. What is she wearing? What is her marital status? Does she have children? Is she pretty? Is she deserving of her seat? In Proud, the Member of Parliament, Jisabella Lyth, clearly is a combination of various archetypes for some women politicians. Women politicians are often read as ambitious, undeserving, absent parents or partners, and either rely on their femininity or eschew it to adopt more masculine leadership traits. Women politicians are more nuanced than this, but we have examples that play into these archetypes. We can think of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, or our own Belinda Stronach, who switched parties and felt the sting of the negative reaction to her betrayal – or was that growth? The Lyth character clearly is multidimensional.
Healey is a skilled playwright who asks the question “What might have happened differently if the Conservative Party had won a majority in Quebec in 2011?” He provides one possible answer in Proud, and along the way explores loyalty, ambition, and gender in politics. Is the play partisan? Perhaps, but overall it is provocative and will make you laugh and squirm in your seat. That’s the point about politics, right? You do not want to know how it is made. Ultimately, the play is about political survival. It has been hundreds of years since Machiavelli wrote about leadership in The Prince and Sun Tzu wrote about military strategy in The Art of War and ultimately both works are about politics and survival. Who knows what books will be written about Stephen Harper in the future, but in this play, as in life – and whether you like him or not – our current Prime Minister is a survivor.
Janni Aragon is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria. She teaches Gender & Politics, American Politics, Politics and Popular Culture, and numerous other courses.