Michel Tremblay, Hosanna
Michel Tremblay, Hosanna
Translated by John Van Burek & Bill Glassco. Designed by A. A. Bronson.
Vancover: Talonbooks, 1974.
First English Edition (First French ed., 1973), 102 [ii] pp. Paperback in pictorial wraps. Cover photo and eight photos from the play’s production by Robert A. Barnett. In good condition.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
A two-person play documenting one stormy, dramatic night in the life of an ageing drag queen in Quebec—Hosanna—whose experience of humiliation at a drag ball unfolds over the course of the evening during a quarrel with her lover, an ageing biker named Cuiriette. While their relationship is catty, their decision to age disgracefully is lavishly depicted: Hosanna dressed in full drag as her idol, Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra; Cuiriette in his leathers describes cruising a long-abandoned hookup spot in a nearby park. However, in spite of vivid characters, the narrative arc is disappointing, and Viviane K. Namaste has rightfully criticized its erasure of the trans experience, since Hosanna ultimately gives up the dream of being Elizabeth Taylor in order to conform to her mother’s hopes. In other words, between the idea of a mother’s wishes and the taunts of Cuiriette, she returns to her gender assigned at birth after a bitter tirade and ends the play chanting: “I’m a man…I’m a man…I’m a man…” as if to will it to be so. Her transvestitism in the play is ultimately treated merely as an act of illusion, which seems incommensurate with her emotional outbursts throughout, and her descriptions of her lived experience. Namaste’s identification of trans erasure here is supported by the play’s author in interviews. Tremblay’s notion of transvestism, presupposes that “the self-presentation of transvestites involves a betrayal, a deliberate treason of identity” and links that with the stereotypes that they “dress up because they do not know themselves.” We are far from living in a world where these stereotypes are obsolete—even RuPaul’s Drag Race at times relies on them—so that elevates the script of this play as an early example of the LGBT movement’s tendency—however unintended—to marginalize or outright reject the trans voices that are part of its very foundation. For that reason this play deserves more discussion among those interested in documenting the complexities of drag history as it intersects with trans history.
Viviane K. Namaste. Invisible Lives: The Erasure of Transsexual and Transgendered People. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 111.