By Michel Tremblay
Directed by Gregory Prest
A Soulpepper Production at the Historic Distillery District
September 27-October 15, 2016
In a fundamental socio-political sense, Hosanna is a blue-collar Quebec play, a fact that even the English translation of John Van Burek and Bill Glassco makes clear by its occasional Franco-Canadian exclamations and vulgarly pungent turns of phrase. Described by its playwright as “a physical and emotional strip-tease,” it concerns a homosexual relationship between a drag queen hairdresser and “her” biker, leather-bound stud, who in the course of a Halloween night engage in a bitter, verbally explosive battle. Hosanna is really Claude Lemieux (a former farm boy), who is devastated by the mockery and humiliation he suffered during a masquerade party when he dressed up as Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra. Hosanna also seethes with anger over his troubled relationship with Cuirette (really Raymond Bolduc), who lives off him, and who engages in a sexual dalliance with one of Hosanna’s rival drag queens. Tremblay’s play resolves itself into a sequence of monologue and dialogue, moving in and out of scenes of interaction and moments of pure monologue directed at the audience. Hosanna’s elaborate makeup is an obvious attempt to build a disguise, and the play explores themes of identity, gender behaviour, and role-playing. While it is possible to interpret it as a political allegory about the difficulty of change in Quebec society, the deeper, larger, more poetic significance is the nature of and need for deception, as well as its loss and available compensatory consolation. This point is brought home near the end when Hosanna removes his costume, makeup, and underwear, to reveal himself nakedly as a man (not a faux-woman) who survives a sour love relationship and advancing age because he knows he has the physical comfort (and, perhaps, the ruffled love) of Cuirette.
Gregory Prest’s production gets a fine set by Yannick Larivee (its cluttered apartment relieved by white curtains, large black mirror), whose costumes for Hosanna, however, are far from glamorous, and good lighting by Rebecca Picherack that does not overdo the neon pharmacy sign outside. The insurmountable problem, however, is Damien Atkins’s central performance. Tall, thin, and blessed with comic timing, Atkins uses his baritone voice to good effect (even if it is clearly non-Quebecois) for some satiric barbs, and he is good at bitter ridicule. However, he gives a largely external performance that is emotionally unconvincing and far from poignant. Tremblay is trying to sound like a French-Canadian mix of Albee and Williams, but Atkins doesn’t quite achieve this mix. It doesn’t help that he is much taller than Jason Cadieux’s Cuirette who, for his part, represents the stronger physical male, yet the weaker moral one. But like Atkins, Cadieux does not reach the essence of vulnerability.