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— Canadian actress, comedienne and social activist Mary Walsh unleashes her rage brought on by pop culture

Written and performed by Mary Walsh
Firehall Arts Centre
Feb. 5-17

Only Mary Walsh

Praise and insight are unnecessary here; word of mouth will make this Firehall/Touchstone presentation into a hit.

Forget Don Cherry, Reg Murphy, Stompin’ Tom. All nitwits. Mary Walsh is the only icon with the guts to kick the shit out of Rogers for their insultingly abysmal customer service and get really, really angry doing it. The audience cheers with relief.

Only Mary Walsh will tell us that pint-sized actor Cynthia Dale and pint-sized newscaster Wendy Mesley have both shacked up with CBC kingpin Peter Mansbridge. Hey, we like to know.

And only Mary Walsh will parade in girdle-tight black undies and calmly wrap her bare midriff in black masking tape to contain her flab, joking that she is a fleshy Exxon Valdez.

Best of all, only Mary Walsh will deliver a scorching, scorn-fueled rant about Prime Minister Stephen Harper being a vile crypto-fascist and really, really mean it. The flurry of derogatory anti-Harper adjectives is shocking because it’s hard not to agree with every one of them. He IS the enemy.

From the moment she appears clutching a handbag and immediately refers to B.C. government cutbacks to the arts, Walsh harnesses “the power of nothing left to lose,” telling us, intrinsically, there is dignity in rebellion.

“Gentle German Jesus!” she squawks. Her hilarious railing against the ludicrousness of International Women’s Day doubles as a poignant cry of disappointment about how the women’s movement of the Seventies—back when she toured nationally with CODCO, long before she created This House Has 22 Minutes for CBC—has failed to resonate with hyper-body-trapped females of today.

It’s an inspiring show. Get off your arse, Canada. Express yourself. Show some Newfie pride. Give a shit. And for Chrissake, let’s loosen up a bit. Hey, we’re not going for Hamlet. Let’s have some fun.

The narrative conceit of this show is flimsy, intentionally so. There is a fable about her upbringing in Newfoundland that Walsh ostensibly reads to us, along the lines of a bedtime story. Possibly it was this literary rather than comic narrative that was the catalyst to take a show on the road. Walsh’s serious tale about a little girl who feels abandoned by alcoholic parents culminates in a confession/realization that the heroine, as an adult, has prolonged some unhealthy relationships due to self-worth issues and fear of abandonment.

The weaker, latter portion of this 90-minute circus devolves into a quest to discover whether or not Stephen Harper could be her long-lost love child, the infant she gave up for adoption at age 16. And  even though we enjoy those Forrest Gump-like images of young Mary prancing her way through Expo 67 and appearing alongside the likes of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Pierre Trudeau and Fidel Castro, we could easily do without so many of those clunkily inserted film clips.

But these are quibbles. We go away from this show chuckling, discussing our favorite bits, delighted not only by her audacity but by her warmth.

Yes, dressing up as Marg, Warrior Princess is a great gag, and she’s obliged to give us what we came for, like Bob Dylan should have the good sense to always sing “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but Dancing With Rage enables us to also appreciate Walsh’s artistry as a changeling, facially and vocally.

Seeing her on television, during a skit, we can take each distinctively nuanced voice for granted, but when Walsh is on stage, uninterrupted, literally changing characters and clothes before our eyes, we hear and see the work that is involved in her comedy, the range and discipline required.

The climax of Dancing With Rage is actually a panoply of voices as Marg Delahunty knocks her mother’s coffin onto the floor in a funeral parlour—the finale to that children’s fable?—and invites all her characters to speak, one after another, the way a juggler might handle eight balls at once. This Newfie chorus is not exactly Placido Domingo soaring at the end of an opera, but it serves to emphasize that it’s damned hard work being the best, and continuing to break new ground after forty years.

Smart people like Mary Walsh.

If you are smart, you will go.

- A.R. Twigg