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Hey, Hosanna

Michel Tremblay’s queer classic returns to the stage

Dave Semple, who plays Hosanna’s boyfriend Cuirette, and Donald D’Haene in rehearsals for Hosanna.

Hosanna. In the liturgy, it is a prayer for aid, but in the history of Canadian queer theatre — and, indeed, theatre in general — the word conjures an entirely more fabulous image. 

Hosanna the play — which centres on the relationship between a Liz Taylor–obsessed drag queen and her biker-boyfriend set against the backdrop of Montreal’s gay village — became one of the major events in the early history of professional Canadian theatre and cemented its author, Michel Tremblay, firmly into our cultural consciousness. 

During its English-language premiere at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre in the early summer of 1974, the critics heaped effusive praise on Hosanna, on a biblical scale. The Globe and Mail christened the play “a heart-pounding tour de force,” a potentially surprising reaction given the milieu of drag queens and leather daddies that gives the play its setting, not to mention the tenor of the time, some five years post-Stonewall. The same English production — translated by Tarragon’s late founder Bill Glassco and Pleiades Theatre artistic director John van Burek — made it to Broadway in the summer of the same year, a major coup for a Canadian production. 

A new production of Hosanna is about to open in London, Ontario, as a co-production of Double D Productions and the London Community Players, and according to the folks of Double D — Dave Semple, who plays Hosanna’s boyfriend Cuirette, and Donald D’Haene, who takes the titular role — the play is ripe for a remount, especially outside the relative LGBT-friendly safety of Toronto. 

D’Haene and Semple ought to bring chemistry to their respective parts, seeing that the two have known each other for more than 20 years, having first met on a production at the Port Stanley Theatre. Hosanna had been in the back of both performer’s minds since Semple performed in a college production in Windsor and D’Haene saw the London production in 1989. Semple says he’s happy that they didn’t choose to take on Hosanna before they were ready to tackle the material. “We [wouldn’t have] made the risky choices that I think we’re playing with now,” he says. “We didn’t have the life experience. We didn’t have a reference point for gay culture.”