I should never have gone,” moans Hosanna as she bolts into her darkened apartment at the outset of the play that bears her name. Distraught and out of breath, she looks—in the pulsating, reddish glow cast by the drugstore sign outside her window—utterly forlorn. Also glamorous. Her gown’s golden trim catches and amplifies what little light comes her way, as do the sequins on her eyelids. Slender and exotic, wearing scarlet silk, spike heels, and an Egyptian headdress complete with coiled asp, she’s a postmodern Cleopatra.
But as she turns on a lamp and dashes to her vanity table to splash some revivifying perfume on her wrists, the image deconstructs. Hosanna‘s heroine is a creature of illusion—a drag queen/hustler/hairdresser whose given name is Claude—and her illusory powers are a trifle frayed when we meet her. On good nights, she fancies herself a passable copy of her idol, Elizabeth Taylor, but this clearly hasn’t been a good night. Grant her a faint resemblance to Alice Cooper, but that’s about it. Not at all the desired effect.
This particular evening, the Halloween party at Montreal’s leading transvestite club was to have been Hosanna’s big splash. Having spent weeks scrounging for Cleo-accessories, sewing gold fringe onto her gown, and setting and resetting her wig, she called in sick at the hair salon so she could spend the morning soaking in the tub, treating herself to dime-store beauty treatments. Her afternoon was devoted to applying Liz-makeup (the star’s visage still peers languorously from the Cleopatra album cover propped on the vanity) and preening for her biker-boyfriend, Cuirette.
Then came disaster in a form playwright Michel Tremblay won’t reveal until just before the final curtain. Suffice it to say that Hosanna isn’t quite as demure in public as she is when posing before her mirror, and that hubris goeth before her fall. In any event, she has been reduced, as the play begins, to dabbing frantically at her mascara in a vain effort to keep “three hours’ work and half a pound of sequins” from washing away in a flood of tears.
The arrival of her boyfriend is what helps her to pull herself together, though not because he offers support. Cuirette (pronounced “queer-ette”) is a boorish lout, more likely to offer Hosanna an insult than a shoulder to cry on. As he laughs about what happened at the club and grouses (evidently for the thousandth time) about the flashing drugstore sign and the overpowering scent of cheap perfume that fills their apartment, Hosanna adopts other, more defensive Liz personas, most notably Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?‘s strident, tough-as-nails Martha.
If Tremblay’s dialogue were even half as sharp as Edward Albee’s, such switches might be enough to keep the evening afloat, but it isn’t, and they’re not. Nor does the author gain much except time by teasing the audience for the better part of two acts with veiled hints as to the cause of his protagonist’s distress. Desultory, repetitive arguments ebb and flow, with nothing ever being resolved or illuminated. When the author does make a point, it’s apt to be simple-minded, sexist, or both—as when Cuirette is labeled “the woman” in the relationship because he’s not the breadwinner and does most of the couple’s cooking and cleaning.
In retrospect, the entire first act seems superfluous, enlivened almost exclusively by the curious spectacle of lanky, gangling actor Kryztov Lindquist coming to seem more, not less, androgynous as he gradually removes Hosanna’s headdress, scarves, cowl, and gown. Bill Delaney’s Cuirette also has his moments as he barrels gruffly around the dreary apartment that designer Tom Donahue has crafted from draped cloth and what seem to be a variety of doorways. Both actors, however, have been seen to better advantage elsewhere.
In his program notes, director Michael Russotto suggests that Hosanna can be read on a deeper level as symbolic of the troubled relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada. Tremblay, writes the director, is an “ardent” Quebecois separatist who “believes the roles adopted by French-speaking Quebec and the remainder of Canada are not compatible” because their union is “tainted by the imposition of cultural and social impediments that prevent Canadians of both categories from being who they really are.”
While this may make sense to Canadian audiences, patrons at Scena Theater’s production, which kicks off the company’s “Scenafest ’93,” are likely to be baffled if they start analyzing the text for specific Quebec/Canada parallels. Tremblay isn’t doing anything so obvious as having Hosanna stand in for Quebec and Cuirette for the rest of Canada. (If he were, the play’s resolution would be resolutely anti-separatist.) And if he’s simply drawing a connection between the relationship of fringe gay culture to the rest of Montreal, and Quebec’s fringe French culture to the rest of the country, he can’t be said to be giving audiences much to chew on.