Playwright Astrid Mrkich on writing a Doug Ford–inspired musical
In her new Fringe Festival show, first time playwright and Ontario refugee lawyer Astrid Mrkich doesn’t hold back on her feelings about Ontario’s premier. The Worst: A DoFo Inspired Musical, co-written with fellow lawyer Nicholas Zehr, is a cabaret-style meta musical dedicated un-affectionately to Doug Ford. Here, Mrkich discusses her unlikely muse.
Which came first, your distaste for our current premier or your ambition to write a musical?
My desire to be the centre of attention and my distaste for Doug Ford are both a huge part of who I am. I’ve been politically engaged since I was a kid: I used to write letters to the Prime Minister about animal testing and go to protests. When Ford was elected last year, it was a very dark time for me and for a lot of progressive, social justice–oriented lawyers in the province. As for my love of musicals, that also goes way back. I think my brothers are still traumatized by how often I made them watch The Wizard of Oz. For the past few years I’ve been part of “The Lawyer Show,” an annual fundraiser for Nightwood Theatre where members of the legal community put on a musical. Then I started thinking, would it be that crazy to write my own show?
How did the idea for the play come about?
Nicholas thought we should do something political, but I wanted to create something fun and silly. We’re both big fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, so we started brainstorming around that and came up with this idea of a world where Doug Ford had outlawed drag. Things fell into place from there.
How would you describe the show?
It’s a show within a show: the whole thing is set in my living room, and the characters are having a conversation about what the play should be about while getting ready to go to a protest against Doug Ford’s cuts.
Any cuts in particular?
We actually joke about that in the show. Like, “Okay, what are we protesting today?” But as a refugee lawyer, the cuts to legal aid that were announced last month hit close to home for me. One day we had a system to support immigrants and refugees, the next day we didn’t.
And what about the cuts to music education?
Exactly. He’s ruining all the things that I love.
Your flyer mentions light drag. Does that mean you’ll be playing DoFo?
No, although he does make an appearance. My friend’s wife created a giant papier-mâché Doug Ford sculpture. Well, technically she created the head and neck. I shimmied it onto a makeshift body and went to Value Village to get him a cheap suit. I actually took him out for a spin in Trinity Bellwoods Park in the afternoon to hand out flyers. I think a lot of people thought it was Trump, which is an easy mistake to make.
A lot of comedy writers have said that Trump is hard to satirize because he is already so over the top in real life. Did you have a similar experience with Ford?
The challenge is turning all of this totally depressing material into something funny.
Do you feel like you’ve figured that out?
I really hope so. One second I think the show is really funny and brilliant, then the next I’m scared it’s total garbage. It starts tomorrow and I’m still like, can I just email and cancel? I guess we’ll have to get it in front of people and see what they think.
Who would you love to see in the audience?
If I looked out and saw Mike Layton and Joe Cressy, that would be really fun. The dream would be if Kathleen Wynne showed up—there is a little tribute moment to her in the show.
What about Doug Ford himself?
Oh god. We’ve joked about sending an official invitation, but he doesn’t seem to be the kind guy who frequents the thea-tre, as they say.
The Worst: A DoFo Inspired Musical premieres July 5th at Toronto Fringe Festival.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.