Michael Healey’s Proud was born amongst controversy. In fact, one could say this is one play where there has been as much drama on-stage as there has off. Healey is a Toronto writer had been playwright in residence at Tarragon Theatre for 11 years, in which time he had written plays such as the internationally acclaimed The Drawer Boy (the fourth most-produced play in the United States during the first decade of the 21st century). However, in 2012 Tarragon announced it would not be producing the last installation in his trilogy of Canadian works, Proud, after a board member expressed concerns that it could be deemed libelous to the Prime Minister (the theatre never made an official statement on this). Healey resigned from Tarragon and a debate ensued about self-censorship, government funding for arts organizations, and whether the play was indeed libelous. The play subsequently had public readings by outraged theatre artists across the country, including here in Vancouver.
Proud has since been produced three times – once by Healey himself, who starred as the PM in the Toronto production, once in Ottawa and most recently in Victoria at the Belfry Theatre. The Firehall’s Vancouver production will be the fourth. So far it has attracted rather more plaudits than lawsuits. Kelly Nestruck from the Globe & Mail called it ‘provocative and hilarious’ and the Toronto Star critic declared it ‘will make you proud of Canadian theatre’.
Healey had the play looked over by lawyers who determined it was not libelous – it qualified as fair comment and was clearly satire. The play has made clear by all the fuss it has caused how relevant this brilliant piece of satire is to Canada today and how art can be used to generate powerful discussion about political issues. In the best traditions of Shaw, this highly entertaining comedy, which has been called ‘a Pygmalion for the political age’ (National Post), explores loyalty, gender and ambition in Canadian politics. Definitely well worth seeing what all the fuss is about!
Mark Leiren-Young’s article on the Proud controversy
American Theatre Magazine interview with Michael Healey
Kelly Nestruck’s Globe & Mail review
Robert Cushman’s National Post review