A fictionalized version of Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes centre stage in Proud, the latest production by Theatre Projects Manitoba. The piece is written by Canadian playwright Michael Healey whose first full-length play, The Drawer Boy, premiered back in 1999.
“I’m predominantly drawn to his work because he is one of the few contemporary playwrights in Canada that seems to have an interest in writing about our current political life in this country and he’s so interested in creating a discussion or dialogue about the state of our country,” says Ardith Boxall, the play’s director.
“It’s a political satire that basically reimagines the 2011 election, which becomes one where the current Prime Minister manages to win the second largest Conservative majority in Canadian political history,” Boxall says.
It also follows the Prime Minister’s interactions with an MP named Jisbella Lyth, who is played by local actor Daria Puttaert.
“What happens is he creates this version of the PM who is obsessed with a certain type of control and then in walks this sexy, young female MP who has no idea how to be controlled and is the complete opposite of him in every way,” Boxall says. “This is such a comic piece and the fun of that is we get to play with characters that we think we know something about and discovering something new about them.
“Healey hasn’t made an imitation of the Prime Minister or a character that we just end up demonizing. It basically allows us to imagine our politicians in scenarios that we might not imagine them in.”
Winnipeg actor, playwright and director Ross McMillan plays the role of the PM; he last worked with Theatre Projects Manitoba in 2012’s Dionysus in Stony Mountain.
The role first drew McMillan’s attention when the initial draft was rejected by the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, as they were concerned this fictional portrayal of Harper might anger the Conservatives and potentially lead to less arts funding, or even being sued by the government.
“There was a series of readings of the play across the country so the playwright could raise money to do an independent production in Toronto,” McMillan says. “I was involved with the reading here in Winnipeg so I got some exposure to the play that way and thought it was a great role.”
He adds that his favourite thing about his character is how quick witted he can be.
“When anyone challenges him he can come up with an answer almost instantly that will put people in their place, either through logic or through intimidation,” he says. “It’s a challenging big role and it’s a lot of fun. The tone of the play is a little more sophisticated than just a piece of Harper bashing and that’s what drew me to it as well.”