The history of Michael Hollingsworth’s “epic play-cycle” The History of the Village of the Small Huts is almost as storied (and confusing) as the events they represent. Many are familiar with the plays only since 2000, when VideoCabaret‘s residency began in the back room at the Cameron House. Since then, they have produced a new Hollingsworth play every year (with the exception of 2004), making the currently-running Laurier the eighth play in the cycle. However, the original play-cycle began all the way back in 1985 with the play New France, and ended in 1999 with The Life & Times of Brian Mulroney (the only Small Huts show to be co-written with other VideoCabaret playwright-in-residence Deanne Taylor). There was even a Laurier show back in 1991. Since the Cameron House residency began, the shows have been re-imagined and re-written, and some entirely new shows have been inserted to more fully flesh out the nation’s history. So, while this Laurier is the eighth in the cycle, the original was only the fifth.
After all that, are the plays any good? Yes. VideoCabaret’s design style has become legendary, and the show’s costumes alone (see picture) are worth the price of admission. Flamboyant, bright colours and striking lighting design make the show a visual treat. The script, more Ubu Roi than Shakespeare’s histories, is a sort of insane mash-up of a Heritage Minute and a clown show. Expect bawdy jokes about people whose faces you’ve only seen on money. The show is made up of a collection of vignettes that can be as short as a few seconds and don’t tend to get much longer than a few minutes. Paul Braunstein’s Laurier is a dynamic, Trudeau-esque leader, but it is Kerry Ann Doherty who steals the show with her portrayal of Laurier’s sweet yet slightly unhinged wife Zoe. There are moments when the script drifts into the realm of in-jokes and silliness, but at 78 minutes, there is no time to get bored by this history lesson.
Laurier runs until March.