At Studio 16 until February 1, 2015
Posted January 31, 2015
The simplicity, honesty and intimacy of Après Moi is breathtaking. Written by Quebecois playwright Christian Bégin, translated by Leanna Brodie and directed by Ruby Slippers Theatre’s artistic director Diane Brown, the script is rivetting, intelligent, profoundly moving and a superb example of all that live theatre can and should be: a communion, a coming together.
We see a cutaway of three very spare, identical motel rooms: three double beds, three small curtained windows, three hints of a bathroom behind little scrims; John Webber’s set screams ‘budget motel’. The stories of the rooms’ occupants – two couples and one single man – are told six times, each time with variation and each time delving deeper. Webber’s lighting moves us back and forth from room to room, story to story. The palette is drab, there are no bright colours; we don’t need any window-dressing. We suspect – but don’t know how – the lives of these characters will intersect.
Director Brown sets the play in the Cariboo in the middle of a snowstorm so there’s a sense of no escape and of inevitability.
Stephen (David Bloom) and Simone (Jennifer Lines) have been in this motel many years ago before ‘life’ happened to them. The intimacy they once had has not only gone, it has been replaced by disappointment and increasing hostility. Next door is Matthew (Scott Bellis), recently unemployed and separated, who has come to this motel room to drink, overdose or freeze himself to death. And in the third room is sexy hairdresser-with-a-heart-of-gold Stephanie (Dawn Petten) and geeky, motor mouth Simon (Chirag Naik). When and where can you see veterans Bellis, Lines, Petten and Bloom – at the peak of their theatrical chops – on one stage at one time? And Naik, a fairly recent Studio 58 grad, holds his own amidst all that experience and talent.
The delicious irony of Après Moi is that the least likely character to make human connection inadvertently brings these five characters together in a surprising, heart stopping revelation. Jennifer Lines’ raw performance will break your heart and if you don’t already adore Dawn Petten, prepare to lose your heart to her.
Après Moi is an audacious, storytelling experiment with an uplifting catharsis.
Unlike Après Moi, The List cannot be taken out of in smalltown Quebec; translated by Shelley Tepperman, it retains the rhythms of French. Under the direction of Jack Paterson (creative producer of BoucheWHACKED! Theatre Collective), France Perras (The Woman) is the single performer: a married woman, snowed under with the demands of motherhood. Lonely and isolated even within marriage, she is befriended by Caroline, a much more relaxed mother of a noisy brood. As The Woman relates the story of her relationship with Caroline, she lists off the chores she has compulsively set out for herself: mend pants, clean fridge, check smoke detector, etcetera. Except for the time spent with exuberant, life-affirming Caroline, the Woman’s life is a litany of chores that you know will continue after Caroline’s death. Big on that list is “Bring Caroline Back.”
The List is a confessional although where exactly The Woman’s guilt lies is not clear.
Perras is so still, so contained it’s almost mesmeric. Except for small, brief outbursts of joy when The Woman is talking about Caroline, Perras delivers playwright Jennifer Tremblay’s fifty-minute dialogue in such an even, neutral voice, it’s almost as if The Woman is sleepwalking. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Julianne Moore’s outwardly cheerful, inwardly devastated performance of the 2002 film, The Hours.
The evening opens with Après Moi and concludes with The List with a short intermission between. Because Après Moi offers the biggest emotional payoff – or it did for me – the order might have be reversed for a more satisfying evening.
Both, however, are examples of what’s coming out of Quebec and it’s exciting. A disappointingly short run of seven performances, this double bill must close February 1.