Slide show of production shots from La Sagouine
Viola Léger still takes her time to enter into character every night
by Sarah Deshaies
After 40 years and over 2,000 performances, you can be forgiven for forgetting about the formidable actress in a one-woman play. You forget you’re seeing Viola Léger, actress, performing La Sagouine, character, and get immersed in a story that’s part of the Canadian canon.
A washerwoman stands before you and she’s ready to share with you her life’s wisdom. La Sagouine is a 72-year-old who’s seen everything - loss, war, good and hard times - without having left her small Acadian fishing village.
La Sagouine opens with the anecdote of Death, and ends with Spring, a taste of hope.
Over 30 years after Viola Léger first performed her iconic role as la Sagouine at the Segal, she’s brought the classic Acadian figure back, this time with a new wrinkle.
Acadian auteure Antonine Maillet’s acclaimed La Sagouine is a simple series of 16 stories that manages to encompass the tale of a whole culture. Usually, performances of La Sagouine feature no more than five stories, in a certain order moving from hope to death. This John Van Burek-directed show, which opened March 24, reverses the order, so that La Sagouine opens with the anecdote of Death, and ends with Spring, a taste of hope. After opening night on Thursday, Maillet said she was pleased with the remix. While changing a successful formula forty years on might seem redundant, the choice does bring a fresh angle to a story told so many times over.
Maillet and Léger, both slim women around five feet tall with small, twinkling eyes, are longtime friends. They knew each other before La Sagouine’s stories were put to paper, and maybe before they were even imagined. Maillet wrote the story of the Acadians, a tale of expulsion, scattering and hardship. And Léger has since been breathing life into her words.
Yannick Larivée’s set is sparse, to allow the audience to focus on Léger’s performance.
Despite having countless performances under Léger’s belt, the one-time senator and certifiable Canadian treasure still approaches the character with a fresh mind, and a steady dollop of diligence. Now 80, she’s a dozen years older than the wizened Sagouine, and has less energy than when she first started performing the role in her 40s. But Léger still takes her time to enter into character every night, and leave it after every performance. The before and after process can take the method actress a few hours.
Yannick Larivée’s set is sparse, to allow the audience to focus on Léger’s performance. Her voice, cooing, laughter, ‘ah bens’ and hand clasping get centre stage.
Léger performed for the first time in English in 1979 at the Segal, and a lifetime later, she’s back. Find your red seat, pull up and open your ears for an evening of storytelling. As director John Van Burek says, to see Léger in this role at her age “is the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Length: 150 minutes