Day two of my first hardcore theatre weeks in WAY too long, and it’s feeling good, folks. I’m still trying to decide if I’m seeing five shows this week or six, and either way…yay ME! And if you know me you know that ain’t a sentiment I express too often.
Tonight, I’m expressing that yay about some other people, namely the cool kids at Theatre la Catapulte and Theatre Francais de Toronto, who just co-produced the premiere of ALBERTINE EN CINQ TEMPS, de Michel Tremblay, that I just caught tonight at La Nouvelle Scene. It’s the latest in a series of co-productions both companies are undertaking, and take it from me, Ottawa…it’s a good thing they did. As a general rule, I seem to be very impressed with Franco-Theatre, even given my somewhat spotty conversational French. This time, however, I came prepared! I read up on an English translation of Tremblay’s piece (which would actually be the 3rd Tremblay play I’d seen, but only the 1st in his native French…after the NAC’s ST.CARMEN OF THE MAIN and Chamber Theatre’s great MARCEL PURSUED BY THE HOUNDS), and it was an impressive read. After getting through it, I could not WAIT to see how Catapulte and friends carried it off.
A brilliantly framed character piece, ALBERTINE tells the life of the titular character in exquisitely theatrical form, hearing from the character in 5 different decades of her life, all at the same time. Alongside them all is sister Madeleine (Genevieve Dufour), never changing herself even as she listens to the laments of all 5 iterations of her tragic sister. We start with Albertine at 30 (Melanie Beauchamp), still hopeful but filled with a terrible darkness that threatens to overwhelm her. Albertine at 40 (Celeste Dube) is at times 30’s dark mirror (they stare one another down more than once in the show), consumed with anger and bitterness. Albertine at 50 (Patricia Marceau) is almost jarringly happy, until we realize what a terrible price she paid for that contentment. At 60 (LynnTremblay) everything has gone wrong again, soothed only by a parade of pills from a friendly doctor. And Albertine at 70 (Marie-Helene Fontaine) seems the most grounded of all, finally looking back on her mess of a life with something like perspective. It’s one of the most beautifully-crafted character pieces I could even imagine, and it’s imagined into pretty amazing reality here by director, and Catapulte Artistic Director Jean Stephane-Roy.
It’s hard to pick out or spotlight a performance here, because all 6 actors are so uniformly great. I expect that the acting lineup for this play will look extremely similar to the nomination list for next year’s Prix Rideau Awards for French Theatre, Female. There wasn’t a sour note in the bunch, and there were plenty of moments to shine. Celeste Dube as the combative Albertine at 40 was a Helluva sight to see, and Albertine at 70 Marie-Helene Fontaine was easily one of the crowd’s fav’rits. 50’s Marceau was a cocky bombshell, perfectly content in her own carefully shielded world, and 30’s Beauchamp had just the right level of explosive lurking underneath her surface. And 60’s Tremblay was amazing, snaking along the pared-down stage, dispensing slurred wisdom that none of them wanted to hear. Bloody incredible, right across the board.
After reading the script (and knowing how wonderfully INSANE French theatre can get) I was actually kind of surprised how low-key Brian Smith’s lovely set was…until a few minutes into the show, and I understood how brilliant and wonderfully insane lighting designer Benoit Brunet-Poirier’s overhanging army of lightbulbs were going to transform the set, and the whole production. The effect they had…so cool. I swear, if the show run weren’t so short, I’d catch it again..tho I believe it WILL be playing again in Toronto next year. Hmmm…
An amazing text by Canadian legend Tremblay is brought to incredible life here, by the kind of talent you only ever dream you had backing you up. I continue to wish my French language skills were better than they were, and French theatre is the best reason I’ve ever found to brush up. I wish I had a good pull quote to give you in French, but I’m not quite there yet. Heck, I asked a girl to be my date for this show in French, and…well, wow. Let’s just say I went alone, okay? Best I can do is this…
C’est Fou comme c’est Bon!
Peace, Love and Soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)
PS: the show runs until Saturday, but check before heading out…I think some shows are already close to selling out (and rightly so)!