Hey, do you know what we have in downtown Ottawa? A Public Library! Manoman, it had been so long since I was back there, I had plum forgotten all about it! Trust my good ol’ pal Theatre to reintroduce me, though (in fact, the LAST time I was there was to see some roving maskwork courtesy of Odyssey Theatre, now I think of it). I had another French show to see, a translation of an English work, so I hit up the book building to read thee original, to give my still weak Franco-skill-set a leg up. They had the play in question, and I spent two visits having a very pleasant read of what turned out to be a pretty squinky piece of work. I left aching to see it performed, and especially curious to see how it translated.
The play was UNITY (1918) by Kevin Kerr, and was being performed at Academic Hall by Ottawa U’s Comedie des Deux Rives troupe. Having already produced one of my fav’rit shows this year, CIMITIERE DES VOITURES, I couldn’t wait to see this one…especially once I realized that it would be directed by none other than Joel Beddows, the director who wins ALL the awards, yo! It was an exciting enough combo to make me skip the Evolution Theatre launch party just a few blocks away (more on that in another post, coming soon) and hunker on down to Acky Hall, with fellow Remote Planet recording superstar Caitlin in tow. Unity (mil neuf-cent dix-huit), here we come!
The story of UNITY happens in the Saskatchewan town of the same name, in the final days of WWI. The three Wilde sisters (Beatrice, Mary and Sissy, played by Alexandra Beraldin, Gabrielle Boucher and Caroline Lefebvre) are the central characters around whom the events of the story revolve. Earnest Mary is pining for the return of her sweetheart Richard from the war, even as responsible Beatrice longs for her would-be sweetheart Glen. Smart-aleck Sissy, however, is more interested in shirtless beau Michael (Samuel Menard), and stirring up trouble about an end of the world prophecy she read in a book. News of the impending arrival in town of a deadly Flu virus, however, lends too much truth to her ides for comfort. And people were already dropping like flies…as we start, farmer Stan (Chancard Lemvo) has just lost his wife in childbirth, and has to rely on Sunna (Chloe Tremblay), the mortician’s daughter, as her Father has also just passed away. Poor timing, as his long-estranged son Hart (Guillaume Saindon) has just arrived, blinded from a gas attack in the war.
Hart’s appearance seems an ill-omen indeed, and things begin going badly for the town in their new war against the flu…masks are strapped on, quarantine is called, but how much good any of this will do is anyone’s guess. Joel strikes a macabre tone in the show almost from the word go, although Kerr’s script (even translated) still has so many genuine laughs in it that everything still balances out wonderfully. And holy blue freakin’ Hannah, but they’ve assembled a crack cast for this show. Beraldin shines brightly as put-upon elder sister Bea, and Lefebvre is a firecracker playing bratty, lively Sissy. Saindon as the (mostly) soft-spoken Hart has some wonderful scenes, ditto Chancard Lemvo as crestfallen Stan. And Chloe Tremblay (who I caught in the great PETIT KOCHEL a while back) as solitary Sunna is absolutely wonderful in a performance that’s not to be missed. There was some choice scene-stealing going on as well, most notably from Julien Dancause as Glen, all grins and struts, and Chantal Labonte and Isabelle Jeaurond as Doris and Rose, the memorably snappy telephone operators. There weren’t really ANY missteps in this, a stunningly beautiful and haunting production that serves as maybe a picture-perfect example of why I love going to student productions so god-damned much. It also makes me VERY glad that I’ve started catching more and more French shows, because even missing the occasional word here and there, this is a fantastic two hours, and no fooling.
Props to Lewis Caunter for a lovely soundscape, and some cool lighting effects from Margaret Coderre-Williams. Icing on the cake for a show that would likely have earned Joel ANOTHER best director nod at the Rideaus, if this were a professional production. Certainly couldn’t tell it wasn’t from the quality. The kids done good, and you’d be doing yourself wrong to pass on this production, which I’d happily sit through again. Vas-y! Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)
PS: Caitlin loved it too. So it wasn’t just me!