Review: Trudeau and the FLQ (Videocabaret)

Canadian history as seen through comic book lenses, Videocabaret presents Trudeau and the FLQ

As we walked home after Trudeau and the FLQ, my guest turned to me, energized and excited.

“So this is the Jack Nicholson Joker fever-dream version of Canadian history.”
“Pretty much, yes.”

Trudeau and the FLQ is best described as a series of living editorial cartoons. Short vignettes, none longer than 2-3 minutes, depicting significant events, private moments, public revelations and occasional blowups in Canadian history. The cast moves at alarming speed through over 10 years of history, stopping to smell the roses, drink the cognac and drop the acid as they go.

We see Pierre Elliot Trudeau rise from philosophy professor to public intellectual to Minister of Justice to Prime Minister. We see the FLQ form, germinate, and start kidnapping cabinet ministers. And in this comic-book world of lurid colour and mounties in drag, we see Canada forming despite it all.

This is Trudeau’s show, and Mac Fyfe is more than equal to it, nailing everything from the accent to the eyes. Scenes which contrast Trudeau against other leaders–especially Michaela Washburn’s outstanding, scene-stealing Lester B. Pearson–are the biggest treats in the show, with Fyfe ably communicating just how unique Trudeau was. PET wasn’t merely charismatic, he was something bordering on a force of nature, never quite in the same room as anyone else, and equipped with enough oratorical skills to sell sulfur to the devil himself.

The entire cast of seven (seven!) get their moments in the sun, playing various premiers, ministers, journalists, kidnappers, workers and victims. But they work best as a group, especially in scenes exploring the Summer of Love, and a moment that sneaks up behind the audience–you can practically see director Michael Hollingsworth grinning from the wings–involving the brilliant use of an absolutely appalling song.

The production’s design combines Andrew Moro’s moody, industrial lighting with Astrid Janson’s technicolour costumes to tremendous effect. This design also houses several surprises: considering how little space they’ve been given, this is Lion King-level stuff.

The only real wrinkle–if there is one–is something which hit me funny afterwards. I enjoyed this show. Really, I did. But it bothers me that every female character amounts to little more than comic relief. Certainly, so far as politics are concerned, this was by and large a men’s era, and it’s not as if the men are taken especially seriously at that. But aside from an unnamed female journalist who introduces the show and later interviews Trudeau (who promptly seduces her, natch), the only halfway-serious woman gets turned into Valerie Solanas by the end. This disappoints me.

But, in context, this is a small disappointment. Trudeau and the FLQ remains a remarkable acheivement: making Canadian history interesting and relevant to younger people, without sacrificing historical accuracy. This production is beautifully-designed, sharply-written, masterfully-acted, and a perfect showcase for Mac Fyfe’s outstanding–eerily, spookily perfect–depiction of one of the most sexy, most self-absorbed, most thoughtful, most dangerous, and most important people this country has ever produced.

Details

  • Trudeau and the FLQ plays the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (Distillery District, near Mill & Trinity) through May 10, 2014.
  • Performances run most nights Tuesday to Sunday at 8:00 PM, with frequent matinees. See calendar for details.
  • Evening tickets are $55 for adults, $25 for students; matinees $35 and $25, respectively.
  • Tickets may be purchased online, in-person from the box office at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, or by telephone. (416-866-8666)
  • Be advised that several dates have already sold out: buy early to avoid disappointment!

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