Thursday, 13 November 2014

Hosanna delivers the riches of amateur theatre

Palace Theatre
Procunier Hall
Written by Michel Tremblay
Translated by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco
Directed by Dave Semple, Donald D’Haene and Anne Mooney
Approximate running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes (with one 20-minute interval)
Runs until November 15
Contact: 519-432-1029
Reviewed by Geoff Dale

Slightly more than four decades have passed since Michel Tremblay’s evocative soul-searching two-act Hosanna burst onto the scene, marking its first performance May 10, 1973 at the Théâtre de Quat’sous in Montreal.
Audiences have had plenty of time to grasp the fundamental, often underlying power of the work and a number of professional companies have tackled the production with varying degrees of success. Yet does everyone really understand the complexities of a story that is presented in wonderfully cascading layers of pathos and humour?

Most get the obvious that this is much more than the simple tale of a second or third-rate drag queen, battling both her inner demons and the oddities of her aging biker boyfriend. What is at the core of the story is the struggle of dealing with highly personal issues like gender and identity, both driven and made all the more confusing by the omnipresent Hollywood Dream Machine dominating the central figure. 

The plot in a nutshell revolves around Claude Lemieux (Donald D’Haene) who has left his small town roots in search of true happiness in the big city and becoming Hosanna, a persona that lives her life both dreaming of being and acting the part of Elizabeth Taylor in the role of Cleopatra, Tinsel Town’s gaudy view of the Queen of the Nile in its splashy, quasi-historical 1963 film. 

With three distinctive characters (in addition to the less prominent Claude) struggling for their respective places in the body of one individual, it is small wonder Hosanna no longer knows exactly who or what she/he really is. D’Haene captures the complexity in a beautifully etched performance that relies on equally large measures of sardonic and often wicked humour and prolonged moments of soul-deflating desperation. 

The play is set late one Halloween night, solely in her cramped and depressingly small apartment, livened up only by her somewhat cheesy, glittery wardrobe that hangs boldly at the far edge of the room, feet away from the hideaway bed/couch. 

Thanks to some nice touches by costume designer Whitney Bolam, Hosanna comes off as an intriguing mix of gaudiness and bargain basement Hollywood – much of the costume, while delivering the stylistic goods of a Cleopatra wannabe, still looking very much home-made. 

Sharing the flat is her often belligerent biker beau Cuirette (played with vigor by Dave Semple), still clinging to both the tough guy look and demeanor, yet having to contend on a daily basis with an ever increasing belly only accentuated  (as Hosanna points out) by a very tight belt around his ill-fitting, tattered jeans. 

At the back of the room prominently displayed is a picture of a more dashing, considerably younger Cuirette, serving as a constant reminder that, while he delivers most of the age-related barbs in Hosanna’s direction, he is just as much a victim of the aging process as she. 

Semple is delightful with his wonderfully aggressive French Canadian accent, his cruel personal taunts and his longing for a past era where his favorite districts of Montreal displayed more shadows, darkness and far less neon light. 

Direction by Semple, D’Haene and Anne Mooney is simple and to-the-point, helping to deliver the central messages in a pleasingly straightforward fashion. The pacing is spot-on, the soliloquies delivered crisply and without hesitation and Mark Mooney’s concise set design almost adds another character to the production. 

This is amateur theatre at its finest, tackling somewhat controversial material and bringing alternative works to the forefront where it belongs. Richly deserving  5 out of 5 stars rating.


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