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Tommy Douglas' life, times and legacy come alive in actor's bioplay
"Courage my friends; 'tis not too late to build a better world." - Tommy Douglas
The guy CBC viewers voted The Greatest Canadian will be immortalized in Duncan next week during actor John Nolan's bioplay Tommy Douglas: The Arrows of Desire.
Nolan's chore was researching then cramming the vast accomplishments of Canada's father of medicare (1966) — and two-term (1972 and '74) Nanaimo-Cowichan NDP MP — into a play reflecting the Baptist minister's magnetic personality.
Results appear in his one-person, two-hour play debuting locally at the Mercury Theatre.
"It's a tale about an honest, genuine person," Nolan, 62, said from home in Victoria.
"I had to figure out where the platinum was in the gold."
Douglas has had some 70 stagings after thespian-lifer Nolan spent two decades scouring Tommy's life for the script premiered on Douglas' 100th birthday, Oct. 20, 2004, in the former Saskatchewan premier's hometown of Weyburn.
"I honesty believe in what Tommy had to say," Nolan said of the founder of Canada's unemployment insurance and pension plan. "He'd tell the truth, and often suffered for it during elections.
"Some people get excited hearing things Tommy talked about — it's a call to arms."
Richard Hughes, Cobble Hill's former director, heard that call before he saw Nolan's play in Victoria.
"What Tommy talked about is just as relevant today," Hughes said of the "pragmatic democratic socialist" who sat on his lap for a 1977 interview at CKAY radio after the station's mike broke.
"He stood for things; he fought, fell, and got back up. Tommy didn't launder his comments or positions to win favour of his opponents."
Such as doctors fearing lost income under universal medicare.
The NDP's first leader (1961) created of publicly owned Saskatchewan Power Corp., and Canada's first publicly owned automotive insurance service, the Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office, and other Crown corporations.
The frugal politician also forged laws allowing unionization of public services, and Saskatchewan's Bill of Rights that ushered the UN's Declaration of Human Rights.
That's why Hughes called Douglas a fierce advocate for downtrodden folks. "We need that kind of commitment and unselfish politics now."
That idea shines through Nolan's play.
"It's an education with Douglas, unplugged," Nolan said of "channeling" his legendary character, who was actor Kiefer Sutherland's grandfather.
"He tells some jokes, and talks about his life and things that went right and wrong.
"Tommy was just one of those people you felt good about being around."
What: Tommy Douglas; The Arrows Of Desire
When: Sept. 5 to 7, 12 to 14, 8 p.m.; 2:30 p.m. Sept. 8.
Where: Mercury Theatre, Brae Road, Duncan
Tickets: $22. Call 250-748-PLAY