||He Sold The Shop
by Don Nichol
NEWFOUNDLANDERS, NOW MORE than ever, need something to laugh about. Expectations for the 1990s spell more of the same old gloom and doom: our appalling unemployment statistics, political pandemonium, child abuse, and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Political placebos range from the ludicrous to the outrageous on the centre stage of the Arts and Culture Centre.
So, to remind us of happier times -- or more aptly, to help us forget present woes for two hours -- Rising Tide Theatre revived its Revue '89 in January. More and more, the show has come to function as an annual provincial psychiatric examination. It enables us to laugh at what is normally unlaughable matter.
Revue '89 mixes mummery (that pauper's domestic drama that Rick Boland and crew have recently revived), music, and parody with a bit of the old malady.
In the wake of official enquiries into that former model of Christian charity, the Mount Cashel orphanage, some of the sketches hit hard. Grotesque caricatures of "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" exit as a former chief of police, minister of justice, and the archbishop. You can feel the audience's hackles being raised, but no one dares vocalize disdain.
A year ago, censorship reared its ugly mug after the Revue '88 when the Roman Catholic Church urged sponsors to withdraw support from this annual satirical send-up. Since then, even the most pious of viewers would have to admit that covering up hypocrisy hasn't helped and revealing it (in the penetrating way that satire must) might at least help the public to grapple with the contagion of explosively emotional issues.
This time around, the Revue writers a collective of the cast, Tom Cahill and Ray Guy, under the direction of Donna Butt -- have been able to exploit recent governmental folly in the censoring of a proposed Grade 12 English textbook. Dressed in clerical garb, Rick Boland delivers a censorious interpretation of folksongs like "Jack was Every Inch a Sailor" and "Lukey's Boat," finding drug-and-sex messages in lines like, "0 Lukey's boat got a fine fore cutty/And every seam is chinked with putty."
Politics provides a bottomless rum-barrel of laughs. Former premiers, Frank Moores, Brian Peckford, Tom Rideout, and the present Liberal premier, Clyde Wells, all make cameos. Jeff Pitcher's perky Brian Peckford has, in the course of the past year, become just another "one of the 500,000." Formerly known for his fistclenching shout of "They sold the shop!," Peckford now explains his post-premier prosperity with a self-satisfied shrug: "I sold the shop."
The collapse of the NDP in the last provincial election is rendered in a spoof of the betrayal scene in Jesus Christ Superstar (Gene Long, one of the two former MHAs from the NDP, sat in the audience, taking the jabs with good humour, as a crucifix bearing his name was carried on stage).
Jim Payne's songs punctuate the skits of Revue '89. His parody of "Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary's" reflects the changing environmental conditions in light of an invasion of green slime. But his song about the Mount Cashel scandal jolts the audience as he screams the horror of a young orphanage victim of sexual abuse, still waiting to hear a consoling word from his church: "I'll Never Forget."
But a few minutes later, we do forget, laughing at Rick Boland dressed as the bright red part of the premier's anatomy, known as Clyde's Irk, an organ near his spleen that gets activated every time something is found "irksome" -- like the Meech Lake Accord. We forget, as Eric the Amalgamator, that Procrustean reducer of municipalities, tried to unite Gayside and Dildo. We forget, as the Berlin Wall crumbles and the Spruce Curtain is drawn tight to keep peninsular townies away from baymen.
But since Revue '89 came out last December, the future has gotten grimmer for Grand Bank, Trepassey, and Gaultois. It seems that already there's been enough material in one month to supply an entirely new Revue.
Would Revue '89 he suitable for export to the rest of Canada? Satire, by its very nature, must have a locality. Jonathan Swift once asked Alexander Pope whether anyone 20 miles outside of London would understand the Dunciad. The millions of Canadians who don't watch the televised meetings of St. John's City Council might wonder at the parody of "Dotty" Dorothy Wyatt, a former mayor, whose wardrobe could have inspired Andrea Martin's dragon-lady. How many non-Catholic Canadians absorb the full impact of Codco sketches? Then again, on a broader level, how many Americans find Double Exposure or the Royal Canadian Air Farce as funny as we more northerly North Americans do?
At this time last year, the director Donna Butt was doing battle against her reverent detractors; now she's doing a deal with NTV (thanks to a little pressure from the CRTC for more local programming) to broadcast this year's Revue. Attempts to muzzle the satiric content of the Revue have plainly backfired. What is rough-hewn on stage may be repackaged for export. But it will be interesting to see what stays in and what gets cut.
The Harris report on the fisheries, the findings of the Winter Commission and the Hughes Enquiry, the up-coming trials of too many members of the clergy, the fate of several fishing communities, more unemployment are all in the offing. The way 1990 is shaping up, the next Revue will be able to draw on an even greater superfluity of sadness. One thing's for certain: we'll all need another good laugh to sustain us through our next winter of discontent.