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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review: The Dragonfly of Chicoutimi

Photo: Danny Taillon

Back, Back, Back
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

A dozen or so years ago, I got into a lot of trouble at Espace Go when I yelled, "C'est d'la merde!" at the end of a particularly awful production. I found it necessary, subsequently, to explain the convergence of elements that led to that moment. In a kind of manifesto written for Hour, I explained that French-language theatre in Montreal had developed a kind of aesthetic sameness. That no matter the play, a certain school of directors found a way to render the evening lovely to look at—well lit, beautifully dressed and designed—but utterly empty.

A decade has past. However, tonight, back at Espace Go, I felt like I had never been away. A director I had named in that article, back then—Claude Poissant—had taken a difficult text and turned it into a series of empty pictures, choral recitations, semi-danced movements and whispered-on-the-wind, airy-fairy poetry that, once again, proved to be utterly soulless.

I had read the play—I even wrote the entry for it at—and had liked it on the page. I never got to see Jean-Louis Millette's reportedly magistral performance of the piece so cannot tell you if he lifted the complex, enigmatic words from the page. All I knew, when I walked into the theatre tonight, was that the piece was meant as a solo and it was, instead, being performed by five young actors.

The acting is brilliant; but only for brief moments do the young men manage to push this work into anything vaguely human. They are boxed in (metaphorically and literally) by a set (by Olivier Landreville) that is just too fucking lovely for a work that features eroticism and blood. The lights (by Erwann Bernard) keep the affair gloomy and hard to watch, and, as a result, the actors become faceless...ciphers.

Perhaps, yes, it is the play. Maybe the work does not merit the piousness with which it is now approached in cultural discussion and university campuses. Maybe it is not the icon of Quebec dramaturgy that we thought. Maybe the central device—that the character, coming out of a mental illness, is no longer able to speak French and instead speaks a peculiarly syntaxed English—is just that: a device. Bunko, finally.

But if it is, then the bunko certainly hasn't been debunked (if you'll permit) by this production. Indeed, everything on the stage goes a long way to proving that there is no there there.

The Dragonfly of Chicoutimi runs to March 19
Running time: 1h15


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