Quebecois literary icon Michel Tremblay’s hit 1973 play Hosanna about a transvestite performer headlining a ratty Montreal drag nightclub has been mounted on countless stages in its original French. But, says Tableau D’Hôte Theatre artistic director Mike Payette, “It wasn’t until we made the decision to do this play that we realized Hosanna has never been done in English in Montreal — even though the English translation by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco was produced in Toronto and on Broadway in 1974.”
In fact, Hosanna was dubbed a “modern classic” by The Globe and Mail when it played at the Stratford Festival in 2011. Now Tremblay’s controversial play comes home to make its English-language premiere at Montreal’s independent Mainline Theatre located in the very neighbourhood made famous by Tremblay’s oeuvre.
“I fell in love with the love story,” says Payette.
Set over the course of one Halloween night, Hosanna, a Montreal transvestite (aka Claude Lemieux), and her boyfriend Cuirette — an aging stud and homosexual biker — have a heated tête-à-tête in Hosanna’s apartment “somewhere in the Plaza Saint-Hubert” that forces the Cleopatra impersonator to face her own illusions of identity. The play deals with gender and sexual identity, as well as the acceptance of aging and social expressions of homosexuality.
“Tremblay has placed a mirror to reflect the psychology of his two characters Cuirette and the iconic Hosanna, symbols of the environment they live in and how that world affects their interiors and relationship,” says Payette, who also directs this all-new local production. “Our two leads identify as gay, so that helps add authenticity to our production.”
Payette points out that mounting the play on the Main at Montreal’s Mainline Theatre also adds to the realness factor. “The third character in this play is this very neighbourhood,” he says. “It is Montreal.”
But accusations Hosanna is transphobic continue to linger. In her book Invisible Lives: The Erasure of Transsexual and Transgendered People, Concordia University professor and activist Viviane Namaste criticizes Hosanna for reinforcing a patriarchal and transphobic ideology in which a “reliance on the ideas of illusion, deception and betrayal presupposes that we as transgendered people do not know who we are.”
“Some LGBT audiences — especially the trans community — are somewhat divided over this play since Hosanna on the surface denounces her trans identity,” Payette says. “But society has progressed hugely since this play first premiered in 1973. We recognize there is still a long way more to go, though, and we hope that our production will spark new dialogue.”
Payette adds, “Frankly, there are few plays about queer issues that are based in Montreal. Queer issues are still on the margins of artistic society, and Tableau D’Hôte Theatre wants to help combat this.”
Payette and his colleagues have the support of Michel Tremblay.
“He knows what we’re doing and where we’re doing it,” says Payette. “Mr. Tremblay is unable to attend our opening night because he is in Florida, but we have his blessing.”