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Discussed by Dennis Kucherawy
The first movies I ever saw were Elizabeth Taylor movies. And the last movies I’m ever going to see will be Elizabeth Taylor movies. And someday, when I’m old-old-old and rich-rich-rich, I’m going to buy me a movie projector that will run nonstop, and I’ll sit and I’ll watch Elizabeth Taylor make her entrance into Rome until I croak.
I’ve drooled over Elizabeth Taylor…I’ve laughed like an idiot, I’ve bawled like a baby over Elizabeth Taylor, and I’ll go on doing it over Elizabeth Taylor until I croak! I even skipped work to see Elizabeth Taylor make her entrance into Rome. And I’ll sell my last false tooth, if I have to, to see her do that again!
If Montreal hairdresser Claude Lemieux were alive today, it’s likely he would still be inconsolable over the death last month of screen glamour goddess Elizabeth Taylor. That is, had Lemieux even lived. Lemieux is actually the Taylor-obsessed drag queen “Hosanna,” the title character of Michel Tremblay’s classic drama that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is reviving this summer in its original English translation at its Studio Theatre, directed by Weyni Mengesha, beginning previews July 26th.
The original French production of Hosanna received its debut 38 years ago when transvestites and the gay demi-monde were rarely if ever depicted in popular culture. Now, after La Cage Aux Folles, The Torch Song Trilogy and presently Priscilla Queen of the Desert on Broadway and the West End, Hosanna returns in a more knowledgeable and sophisticated era.
Hosanna premiered in 1973 at Montreal’s Theatre de Quat’Sous starring Jean Archambault with Gilles Renaud as Hosanna’s leather-clad biker lover, Cuirette. A year later, translators John Van Burek and Bill Glassco’s acclaimed English-language production debuted at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre, starring Richard Donat as Cuirette and, in the title role, the late Richard Monette who, years later, would go on to become the artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Hosanna was arguably one of his most acclaimed roles, a passionate tour-de-force in a play that broke barriers.
Often outrageously hilarious and often sadly tragic, Hosanna is set on Hallowe’en on Montreal’s Blvd. St. Laurent, colloquially known as “The Main.” The play begins with Hosanna/Claude quietly returning from a Hallowe’en ball to the depressing bachelor apartment on Plaza Saint-Hubert he shares with Cuirette. Many who saw Richard Monette in the Toronto production will never forget his spellbinding entrance into his lonely apartment in tears. He was dressed in cheap, full drag, with a cobra head-piece, necklaces, sequins, a wine-red lace dress, serpents entwined around his/her arms, painted face, false eyelashes, a black Egyptian wig, a cloak and carrying a scepter and an orb – an image of defeat and chagrin, an ironic mirror reflection of Taylor’s triumphant entry into Rome with thousands cheering. Hosanna’s entrance is greeted by silence.
From that moment on, the play becomes a psychological and emotional strip-tease, peeling away layers of Hosanna and Cuirette’s psyche as they confront illusions and delusions in an exploration of who and what they really are.
However, in an interview published in 1977 in Performing Arts in Canada, Michel Tremblay told me the play is more than a relationship between two men and a search for personal identity; it is also a metaphor with political implications.
“For me, Hosanna is Quebec,” he explained. “When Hosanna is produced outside of Quebec, a layer that is found in Quebec productions is missing. It is never there. And this is the political layer. What (translator and director) Bill Glassco has done with my plays is really very good, but the political meaning is just suggested; it is not really there. It’s OK that people like Hosanna just as a play about the crisis of identity, but since my country is facing this problem, when the people of Quebec see Hosanna, they know much more what I mean.
“Hosanna has been dreaming of being something else, just like Quebec. For the past two hundred years, we’ve been caught between English Canada, Europe, the English and the French from Europe, and the United States. So we are facing an identity crisis, but all we have now, all we can and must say, is `Look at us. We are Quebec. We’re not a mixture of an English actress playing an Egyptian queen in an American movie made in Spain. We are Quebec. Here we are!”
This review first appeared on the Theatrebooks blog on April 04, 2011.