by Lynn on September 28, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Michel Tremblay
Translated by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco
Directed by Gregory Prest
Set and Costumes by Yannik Larivée
Lighting by Rebecca Picherack
Sound by Christopher Stanton
Cast: Damien Atkins
Jason Cadieux

Michel Tremblay’s stunning play explores identity, relationships, a vanishing order replaced by change and acceptance.

The Story. It’s 3 am, Halloween, Montreal. Hosanna is a hairdresser who is also a drag queen. Hosanna, the real name is Claude, has just come home from a Halloween party where she (when referring to Hosanna I will use the feminine pronoun, when referring to Claude I will use the masculine) is dressed as Elizabeth Taylor playing Cleopatra in the movie Cleopatra. Hosanna worked on the costume and wig for weeks, sewing on sequins etc. in preparation for the Halloween party given by her friend “Sandra” another drag queen. Hosanna’s makeup and sequins were perfect. And when she made her grand entrance at the party she realized a great joke had been played on her. She was humiliated and left.

When Hosanna’s lover Cuirette (real name Raymond) comes home the full force of Hosanna’s anger and humiliation is evident as are many aspects of that relationship and how each person deals with it.

The Production. Hosanna lives in a cramped, sad bachelor apartment. The neon sign from across the street flashes on and off and even blinds can’t block out the blinking light. A small, shoddy copy of Michaelangelo’s David is on the crowded coffee table. An erotic painting by Cuirette hangs on the wall. A cluttered make-up table with a mirror are stage right. Up at the back along the wall is a black curtain of sorts. Kudos to set designer Yannick Larrivé

Hosanna stands at the window with the blinking light lamenting what has happened to her at the party and admitting that she knew it would happen. Hosanna wears a long, maroon gown with sequins, a black wig with strands of hair encased in gold at the ends. She wears low heels.

When Cuirette comes home on his motorcycle we hear the roar of the engine and see the lights shining in the window. He wears a black t-shirt, a black leather jacket, jeans, black leather chaps over the jeans and biker boots. (all that leather, hence the nick-name ‘Cuirette’). And he’s roaring with laughter at what happened to Hosanna at the party. Hosanna and Cuirette have been together for four years but one senses it’s been hard going between them. Cuirette is a loud-mouthed rough-house kind of guy. As played by Jason Cadieux, Cuirette is a strutting, boorish biker. He also has a sense of despair at what is happening to his old haunts. He used to be able to go to Parc Lafontaine for ‘some action’, but the place is now so lit up there is no where to hid in any shadow. He laments that change.

Through Act I Hosanna paces and smokes. She is raging-furious at what has happened. As Hosanna, Damien Atkins conveys that rage and anger with a steady fury. His baritone voice fluctuates but the anger is steady. We assume that the reason for all this fury will be revealed; it seems to be anger at what happened at the party and Sandra who keeps calling to taunt.

In Act II we do learn what happened to Hosanna at the party and also the small, cruel world she inhabits. Here anger and bitterness combines and continues

The concern is that Atkins’ performance lacks nuance and variation. Hosanna is not just consumed by anger, but is also depressed, heart-broken, humiliated, embarrassed and brimming with despair. One would have hoped that director Gregory Prest would have spent more time helping Atkins find these subtle variations to give a more complete performance of this intriguing character in Act I and then dig equally deeper in Act II when we do learn the truth about the party and her relationship with her lover.

Along with Atkins’ performance there are two other directorial choices that cause me concern and make my eye-brows knit.

At a point in the play Cuirette pulls down the dark curtain at the back revealing a wall sized mirror with two side panels that jut out from the wall thus giving a multi-sided view of anyone (Hosanna) looking in the mirror. Are we on Broadway one wonders? For some reason director Gregory Prest and designer Yannik Larrivé are not satisfied with the mirror in the vanity table stage right. The result is that that huge mirror upstage pulls focus and takes us out of this cramped space and in a sense out of the play. Hosanna looks at herself from various angles and so do we in this overpowering mirror. Hmmmm?

At the end of the play Raymond, not Cuirette—but Raymond– makes a heart-felt declaration to Claude—not Hosanna, but Claude. And Claude makes an equally startling declaration to Raymond. It’s a very moving moment, but then Prest confuses the moment by having Raymond pick up Claude as if he is a woman being taken over the threshold. Ok, I can appreciate that it’s a director’s choice. But the stage directions say this: “Raymond gets up, goes toward Claude, and takes him in his arms.” It does not say, “takes him UP in his arms.” The playwright is telling all who read the text how that scene is played. Of course the director can ignore it, which he’s sort of done, and the result does not work considering what Claude says to Raymond.

For a provocative image, Gregory Prest has misinterpreted the last moment and rather than creating a moment that is heart squeezing, it’s eye-brow knitting and confusing.

Hosanna is a deeply moving emotional roller coaster of a play about love, relationships, identity, change and recognition. Gregory Prest’s production is sadly disappointing and doesn’t come close to giving the emotional wallop this play should give.

Comment. Michel Tremblay’s 1973 play, Hosanna, with a beautiful translation by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco, is a biting, abrasive, moving work that looks at the world of drag queens, gays, relationships and change, topics that Tremblay loves to explore. Tremblay has chronicled this ever changing world in his plays, but Hosanna is that special thing. I wish this production could have captured that.

Produced by Soulpepper

Opened: Sept. 28, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 15, 2016.
Cast: 2 men
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes. Approx.

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