Michel Tremblay’s Hosanna details the deeply complicated and rather comical relationship of Hosanna, a transsexual drag queen obsessed by Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra, and Cuirette, a fiery middle-aged biker, both residents of Montréal, Quebec. Upon first glance it would seem that this play would only shock its viewers with its colourful language, graphic sexual content, and long moments watching a man perform in nothing but black lace lingerie. However, at its root, Hosanna sheds light on many crucial issues affecting and facing members of the LGBT community today, including gender and sexual identity, homophobia, self-acceptance, and the fear of growing old.
The location of the show, the Palace Theatre, and specifically Procunier Hall, is a small, intimate space that allows the audience to really connect with the players due to the sheer proximity. It was great fun watching those in the first few rows be humorously engaged and teased by the actor playing Hosanna. However, due to the small space and the large amount of people packed into the room, there was a great deal of neck-craning to see past those directly in front. You would do well to arrive a bit earlier in order to ensure a seat in the first few rows.
Two of the three directors of this play, Donald D’Haene and Dave Semple, play as Hosanna and Cuirette, respectively. Their chemistry is palpable as they bicker and flirt (but mostly bicker!) for the entirety of the play, giving the audience great insight into the outside forces that oppose homosexual relationships, as well as the inside doubts and fears of each half of the couple. Hosanna (D’Haene) especially shines with her grandiose monologues, gestures, and overall brazenness, really taking Cuirette (Semple) for a loop with her taunting. For his part, Cuirette, despite his macho biker exterior, also manages to have a certain sensitivity and softness about him, particularly because of his love for Hosanna, showing that first impressions are not always as they seem. Semple himself does a magnificent impression of a French Canadian accent, albeit a few mispronunciations. D’Haene’s energy and enthusiasm does lead him to trip over his words on occasion, but if anything these imperfections add to the realistic atmosphere of a couple struggling to make sense of themselves and their surrounding society.
The set, designed by Mark Mooney (his wife, Anne, is the third director of the show) and Steve Harrison and built by Mooney and Eliot Leyenhorst, is simply a room in Hosanna’s apartment. It is characteristic of a drag queen, filled with wigs, makeup bottles, and fancy dresses, but is not the main focus of the show, allowing the viewers to solely concentrate on the events unfolding between Hosanna and Cuirette. There could have been a little more attention to detail here (for example, I noticed that one of the doors was not fully painted on all sides, despite being the main door into Hosanna’s apartment). The costuming and makeup as executed by Whitney Bolam and Charles Martin was, however, on point. Cuirette’s biker costume suits him perfectly, while Hosanna actually makes a pretty convincing Cleopatra. Her perfume, costume, and makeup do play a significant role in the plot, as the viewer comes to understand her confusion between her daytime life as Claude Lemieux, an everyday hair stylist, and her nighttime embodiment of Hosanna the drag queen.
The lighting as executed by Mark Mooney and the sound design as done by Lisa Desgroseilliers did add to the drama of the show. Brightly coloured lights shine on Hosanna as she delivers her most poignant monologues, creating a beautiful atmosphere to match her words. However, some of the sound effects (such as the sound of Cuirette pulling away on his motorcycle) seemed a little cartoonish and artificial, and could have been omitted altogether.
All things considered, Hosanna is much more than a comedy about a drag queen. Sharp, witty, tense, and emotional at times, Hosanna fleshes out what is truly important in love, and emphasizes that all love is beautiful, regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation. After the show, a heartfelt speech about HIV/AIDS and the LGBT community was given by one of the executive members of the production team, which added and connected the show to the London community. There was also an optional reception for the viewers to participate in mingling and a raffle, which was a nice touch.
The show will be continuing through November 12-15 at 8 pm, at the Palace Theatre (710 Dundas Street, East, London, ON, N5W 2Z4). Tickets are $20 each and available at the venue or online (www.palacetheatre.ca). Proceeds will be going to help fight HIV/AIDS.