Like many Canadians this time of year, David Fennario is thinking about war. His vision, though, is more class politics than pomp and poppies, and he’s hoping Bolsheviki – his first play in five years – will leave audiences reconsidering Canada’s war legacy.
Bolsheviki is the tale of Rosie Rollins (played by Robert King), a veteran of World War I and a native, like Fennario, of Point St. Charles. One evening, on Remembrance Day, 1977, Rollins begins to piece together his story for a Gazette reporter writing a piece on Vimy Ridge. What emerges is a darker retelling of the war, one which abandons the grand narratives of heroic nation-building for an account straight from the trenches.
For Fennario, the battle at Vimy Ridge, which saw more than 3,500 Canadians killed, whitewashes the reality of a war motivated not by pride or honour but by economic interests. “The rank and file were there because they’d been told it was a fight for democracy,” he said, “but it wasn’t. It was divided by class. The interests of the officers within the army were not the same as everyone else, because they were going to go home and join the elite.”
Today, Fenarrio said, this same elite “celebrates and insists we celebrate with them the idea that they could make men fight for them, they could make people die for them. What did we get from it? We were promised a world of democracy, the war to end all wars, jobs when we got back. All we got, though, was two minutes of silence a year.”
Fennario’s family arrived in Montreal a century ago, and his roots stretch across the city’s anglophone working-class southwest. His sharp, often political plays have made him a central figure in Canadian theatre since his first piece, On the Job, premiered in 1975.
That his latest work arrives at a time when thousands of Canadians are still in Afghanistan is no coincidence, and Fennario is quick to point out that the problems of the First World War haven’t disappeared. Afghanistan, like World War I, is backed by the rich and the powerful and fuelled by “the same drive for markets and profits.”
Bolsheviki, then, serves as a warning. “They want bigger and better wars,” Fennario said, and the conflict in Afghanistan may just be the beginning. “That’s why it’s important to fight them when they’re small, when you can oppose them.”
But despite the play’s heavy subject matter, Fennario says Bolsheviki is anything but humourless: “Essentially, Rosie takes a piss on Vimy Ridge, and people piss themselves laughing at it.”
Bolsheviki is playing until December 5 at the Bain St. Michel (5300 St. Dominique). Visit infinitheatre.com for more details.