After catching the opening of METAMORPHOSES at the National Arts Centre last night, it occurred to me that I might as well head right back down there this afternoon and see a different show, because isn’t in an awfully nice building when you think about it? Well, inside anyways. Although today I would be in the lovely studio instead of the mainstage for my first taste of NAC French Theatre…French theatre aimed at children, in fact. I’ve been meaning to check one of these shows for a long time, and when a spot opened up in my somewhat cramped viewing schedule for today, I snapped up a ticket and got in line. Hopefully, NAC security wasn’t TOO alarmed at the lone, towering middle-aged man lining up with a room full of children…I swear, I was there for the show. And honestly, I look that awkwardly out of place ALL the time.
The show was called VIPÉRINE by Pascal Brullemans and directed by Nini Belanger. Apparently, this is the second in a series they’ve worked together on, the previous one called BEAUTE, CHALEUR ET MORT which appeared last season. After seeing this collaboration, I’m kicking myself for being so late to the French NAC party. The story for this one, which sounded like anything but ‘children’s theatre’ to my ears (and speaks volumes to the respect the artists HAVE for their young audience) centers around ten-year-old Vipérine, a rambunctious, imaginative girl whose big sister Fée died several years ago. The death drove a huge wedge in her family…Mama has gone off to ‘find herself’, and Papa has become a workaholic, all but ignoring poor Vipérine. She decides to take matters (and more specifically, the urn with her sister’s ashes in it) into her own hands), and embarks on a mission to bring herself and her Father to terms with Fée’s death.
It sounds pretty dramatic, and it is, but it’s presented in such an utterly charming, beautiful fashion that I was completely sucked in from the first moment. Marilyn Perrault’s completely engrossing portrayal of Vipérine anchors the show perfectly, and certainly had me and my wee fellow audience members captivated. Sébastien Rajotte as her suffering Father hit his own notes just right, and Michel Mongeau was surprisingly effective as a sort of omniscient narrator who ends up meaning more to the proceedings than you initially suspect, as Viperine begins playing with theatrical conventions as she deems it necessary. Add to all this her lost bis sister Fée (a rhyming, rollerblading Léonie St-Onge), who reappears to join Vipérine on a journey to the Underworld…something that seems to be happening a lot at the NAC lately. She’s a delight as well, and ends up turning in the most heartbreaking single scene in the piece, a mostly visual moment near the end that had me in tears. The whole show is beautifully staged and lit…scenographer Julie Vallée-Léger deserves huge credit, methinks, for the simple but highly effective set. And I don’t know what sort of wizard David Alexandre Chabot is, but the way his lighting sometimes made it look like shadows were literally spilling across the stage…brr. Amazing.
VIPÉRINE is billed as being for younger audiences, but I promise any adult with a functioning soul will be perfectly at home in this smart and affecting production. It has just two more performances left, tomorrow at 1:30 and 3:30, and if I could manage it I’d probably be back for one of them. Honest, heartfelt and completely beautiful work. Those NAC kids are in good hands. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)