Paul Ahmarani in Cantate de guerre at Théâtre d'Aujourd'hui (photo: Valérie Remise)
Below The Mountain
Montreal theatre-goers rate the season by looking at Cantate de guerre, True Nature, Closer, Le destin tragique de Tubby et not-Tubby, Les enfants de la pleine lune, God of Carnage, Story-Ya, Cornered, Gaëtan, Requiem pour un trompettiste, La Noce, In Absentia, Tristesse Animal Noir, Le maitre de la rosse, après moi le deluge, The Game of Love and Chance, the Leisure Society.
by Kristian Gravenor
Being a discussion leader at the Thomas More Institute’s (TMI) theatre course for the last dozen years has taught me that it’s not always that easy to convince the 20 to 30, largely fifty-something-and-plus, two-thirds female student bodies that my way of seeing plays is the right way.
Of course they are wrong, but there’s not much I can do about it.
The disagreements are always an issue at the final discussion of the year when we sit down and try to figure out which of the 18 plays (split evenly between English and French) had the best actors, sets, stories, and so on.
My job along with my co-leader Danuta is to keep the discussion relevant and alive.
So no surprise that when we sat down to hammer out a vote on which plays had the best casts, stages and stories out of: Cantate de guerre, True Nature, Closer, Le destin tragique de Tubby et not-Tubby, Les enfants de la pleine lune, God of Carnage, Story-Ya, Cornered, Gaëtan, Requiem pour un trompettiste, La Noce, In Absentia, Tristesse Animal Noir, Le maitre de la rosse, après moi le deluge, The Game of Love and Chance, the Leisure Society.
Due to scheduling and budgetary concerns, we generally end up a bit heavy on the Centaur and miss a few venues, so for example we didn’t get to the Segal Centre or Théâtre du Nouveau Monde this past year. And while we surely miss a few good plays every year, we also come across certain treasures, such as the hot-ticketed Seuls by Wajdi Mouawad.
The course, which has been running for something like 70 years at the TMI, always follows the same format. After every three or four plays the class (some of whom take the course for a University credit) get to vent their spleens. My job along with my co-leader Danuta is to keep the discussion relevant and alive.
Occasionally we have guest speakers, this year we had a great visit from Gregory Hlady who resettled here from the Ukraine and has been doing some fairly awesome plays. He offered a passionate inside view into his vision of directing plays which involves searching the subconscious and so forth.
So what did we vote as our best this year?
For sets/staging, a few voted for In Absentia, which was one of the best sets at the Centaur since Shirley Valentine. It got some votes for having a neat space near the top where the kid got stuck near the end. But most opted for Gregory Hlady’s La Noce, which had balconies, flying dolls, a bed, and a kitchen among other stuff, all used to present a lot of frantic stunts. Actors slapping each other with sticks and palms, spitting water on each other, crouching on toilets and the patriarch was even dumped off a table. Alas that very table was propped at the front of the stage, obscuring my view of the female nudity at the end. (cont'd)
l-r Mark Camacho, Ellen David, Janine Theriault and Marcel Jeannin
Our best acting category saw the ever-excellent Christopher Moore get a couple of votes for his turn as a Manx-accented, prevaricating apprentice-cornerman Manx in Cornered, and my fave: Closer at the Geordie Space also nabbed a few votes. But the cast of La Noce bagged the top prize, for not only did they bash themselves into oblivion every night, they seemed incredibly delighted when taking their bows at the end.
The big category, of course, was best play. For myself, there was no surpassing Closer, which was a tightly-drawn script involving two couples and their cheating ways. A couple liked Gaëtan, a one-man picaresque play about a sickly kid brought up by nuns at an orphanage, only to become enraptured by the art surrounding him in his job as a security guard at a museum. I found it a snoozer but others found it enrapturing. Noce got a couple of votes as did In Absentia at the Centaur, which is a well-scripted play about a woman mourning the disappearance of her husband in Colombia.
Some liked Tubby or Not Tubby, a slapstick about two losers who meet while attempting to jump off London Bridge, only to be conscripted and then cast adrift at sea. I didn’t like it much because I was pulled on stage and asked to dance, which wasn’t something I really wanted to do.
The Big Winner, however was the recent Après moi le deluge, the story of a businessman in the Congo who was approached by a poor farmer attempting to persuade the man to bring his son with him to Europe. The character portraying the poor African farmer did not actually appear on stage, only the white interpreter who would mouth his words into French. Some in the class thought that the absence of the main character was symbolically useful, as white people tend not to even see the poor blacks of Africa. I was on the other side, as I would have preferred a local actor be cast in this role and embody the character and give us some of the language.
We were too polite to elect a worst-play but one that hit a surprisingly negative note was the Tristesse animal noir, a German-adapted play about hipsters getting caught in a forest fire. The class didn’t appear ready for the static declamatory style of the German stage done in such a large space.
Although the season started with a few tough, joyous ones, Cantate de guerre (murder and torture in wartime) and les Enfants de la pleine lune (incestuous father locks his kids in the basement), the season finished strong and did the local theatre scene proud once again.