Friday, February 5, 2010


Patrick Galligan and Tom Barnett. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann
Michael Healy’s new play Courageous opened on January 6, 2010 at the Tarragon Theatre. It has many virtues and one wishes one could write about them only and ignore the play’s faults. Unfortunately the latter are too awful to ignore and almost outweigh the good parts.

In the beginning we hear the Canadian version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” with Bonavista and Vancouver Island replacing for California and New York Island. No matter because it sets the tone for a Canadian event. Good. On the stage we see quotations from Northrop Frye, Isaiah Berlin and Michael Ignatieff. That sets the tone for pretty serious stuff and anticipation is built for intelligent and perhaps witty theatre.

The play opens in the office of Tom (Tom Barnett), a Justice of the Peace who performs civil marriages and we meet a young couple who are about to be married. They are Todd (Brandon McGibbon) and Tammy (Erin MacKinnon). Tammy is arguing very vociferously with her friend and witness Lisa (Melissa MacPherson). The argument is centered on the fact that Lisa “blew” Todd. The latter is wearing a baseball cap sideways; he is unshaven and unkempt and is wearing shorts because that was the only thing that was clean.

Todd forgot to inform the second witness to show up for the ceremony and they are forced to induct a bystander called Arthur (Maurice Dean Wint) to perform that function. Without belabouring the point, these people can best be described as white trash.

Brian (Pat Galligan), a self-righteous and aggressive lawyer charges onto to the scene and asks that his marriage ceremony be performed immediately because he has a luncheon appointment with a client. Tom refuses to perform the ceremony because he disapproves of gay marriages. He is a devout Catholic who is also openly gay. In other words he belongs to a church that does not want him. A nice bit of irony.

Brian files a complaint against Tom with the Human Rights Tribunal and the two face off in the Tribunal’s waiting room just before the hearing. A lengthy Shavian discussion follows about gay rights, the right to refuse to perform a civil ceremony on the grounds of personal beliefs etc. It has some highly entertaining moments.

That is the first act. In Act II we meet the trashy trio again. The whole tenor of the play changes. Todd becomes a narrator and commentator as well as a character. As narrator he has some pretensions to intelligence. The incongruities between the first and second parts of the play are painful. We can treat them as two separate plays with some of the characters crossing over into the second play but that would not help the situation at all.

Arthur, who was a suave, meticulously-spoken wealthy Sudanese man in Act I returns as George, a Somali refugee who occupies an apartment next door to Todd and Tammy. Now we face the other side of “rights” – the rights of refugees to government support and the rights of the trashy couple to the same among other issues of newcomers versus locals.

The intelligent discussion of Act I becomes dreary sitcom jokes in Act II. Whatever connecting links there may be between the two acts, they are to be gleaned on close examination without adding one bit to the enjoyment to Act II.

Healy had a good idea for a one-act play and he took it as far as he could. For the second act he changed gears and could not even figure out how to end it. A character simply says “the end” when enough time has gone by and the audience can be released to go to their homes.

Despite the uneven quality of the play or plays, the actors do superior work. Tom Rooney plays Brian’s lover and would-be husband as well as an alcoholic employer called Pete in the second half. He is excellent. Very high marks to Galligan and McGibbon. Two very good roles for Wint and he excels in both. Tom Barnett is simply hilarious as the devout but gay Catholic who tries to be realistic about his position even when he is out in left field.

The kudos for good acting belong to the actors and no doubt the director gets a part of the praise for bringing it out. But a lot of blame must rest with Richard Rose. He should have insisted on more dramaturgical remedies before choosing to produce the play.

Courageous by Michael Healy opened on January 6 and ran until February 7, 2010 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.

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