Have you ever been so frustrated with the politics of your elected leaders, the lack of intelligence with your fellow voters and the foreign policy you just don’t agree with? Well why don’t you just start your own country and to hell with everyone else? That’s the premise for Let’s Start a Country!, a mostly improvisational play performed by Gerard Harris and Al Lafrance with great success. This show worked so well because it focused on the tiny details to ensure that everything else falls into place. After getting tickets we were handed our programs which was more a customs and immigration sheet explaining the rules of the new play/country (State the purpose of your application for entry: Business, Pleasure, Revolution, A bit of all three). Harris was the ringleader for the show with his affecting British accent that screamed authority in a gentle manner. He told us about how when he was in high school he created his own country using his pencil case in math class and it was the first time he felt respected (even if it was only self respect) and this gave him the idea to turn the Tarragon Theatre into its own country with the audience as its new citizens. From there he appointed Julia, a woman in the crowd to be the Minister of Yes, which entailed her saying yes to every proposed legislation and saying yes to things like Harris asking her out and answering who sings the song Owner of a Lonely Heart.
From there the play was like a large game of Mad Libs. The audience was asked to name nouns and adjectives and eventually we had a country name, West Yore Shenanigany Chocolukto. A flag was created by asking us our favourite colours, shapes and symbols, which they drew and projected onto the stage at the end of the show. They mixed in pre-taped bits introduced by CBC reporter Manly Peterbridge, played by Lafrance, from the CBC letting us know the rising interest the Canadian government has with our trouble making country.
The play wasn’t all Mad Libs and jokes at Stephen Harper’s expense, as Harris would infuse knowledge about past countries that were trying to be sovereign like a bit about a town on the England/Ireland border that changed hands so many times, the English decided to make their name England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland Berwick-upon-Tweed (a town that accidentally was at war with Russia for over 100 years due to a clerical error) as a form of passive aggressive arrogance to the Irish. We also learned about how a tribe of people in Papua New Guinea honestly believe that Prince Philip is a living god to them, going as far as sending fan mail to him and gifts like a pig killing spear. These little historical stories were fascinating to learn about, but they were also subtly incorporated into the play as well written bits.
Since every show has and will be different based on crowds I feel like I can spoil some more of it since it was so delightful. A Governor General was appointed by the name of Sensitive Avery, a young boy who was given a crown and asked to come up with things like the best advice he every received (“Don’t stick your tongue in an electrical outlet”), which became our national motto. After hearing about the Prince Philip story we also created our own god, a deity by the name of Chablé that wore flippers, a leaf loin cloth and a wreath on his head (and not much else) while being armed with a pig killing stick (the audience liked that part of the story quite a bit).
The whole play came to a crescendo with the Canadian Army ‘raiding’ the theatre and a lovely manipulative woman who worked for the government coming in to ruin our day of independence. Harris’ charm and rapid fire brain kept us laughing the whole time and Lafrance was the glue by acting as all the minor character bits from a flag maker (Don Drapeau) to a game show host (Alex Quebec). Without spoiling too much I will end on having seen my new deity Chablé, you can say I am a convert and long live West Yore Shenanigany Chocolukto and death to all its detractors!
Tickets are $12 in advance, $10 at the door. Tickets can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), from the festival box office down Honest Ed’s Alley (581 Bloor West), or from the venue box office starting one hour before the performance. Venue sales are cash-only.
July 10 12:00pm
July 11 6:15pm
July 12 4:00pm
Photos provided Louis Longpré.