Review: ALBERTINE IN FIVE TIMES (Albertine en cinq temps)

by Lynn on April 20, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs, Toronto until April 28. Written by Michel Tremblay. Surtitles based on the English translation by Linda Gaboriau. Directed by Jean Stéphane Roy. Set by Brian Smith. Costumes by Nina Okens. Lighting by Benoȋt Brunet-Poirier. Starring: Mélanie Beauchamp, Geneviève Dufour, Céleste Dubé, Marie-Hélène Fontaine, Patricia Marceau, Lyne Tremblay.

A co-production of Théâtre Français de Toronto and Théâtre Catapulte.

Michel Tremblay wrote his powerhouse, unflinching play Albertine in Five Times in 1984. It’s set in 1982 and looks at the life of Albertine over five decades, from 30 to 70. Albertine at 70 is about to go into a nursing home, not a happy prospect. She reflects on her life over the previous decades; the events that shaped and embittered her; the disappointments; the few good memories usually involving her sister Madeleine who died young.

Albertine at 30 has been sent away to the country to recover from beating her young 11 year-old daughter Therese. Therese would grow up wild, become a prostitute and die at the hands of a pimp. Albertine’s  troubled son, Marcel, would grow up insane. At 40 Albertine’s rage at the world and what it has done to her continues. At 50 she leaves her children to live life on her own terms. She has Marcel committed into an institution and she just washes her hands of Therese. At 60 depression descends and at 70 there is a kind of peace.

As I said it’s unflinching and fearless because Tremblay does not shy away from telling a tough, hard story. And he has faith that his audience will not look away either. It’s a play about how in every person’s life there are consequences to our actions, no matter how rich, happy or poor and angry. Albertine has the wisdom of hindsight; she’s been there; done that; and can warn her younger selves.

Tremblay has written the play so that those five generations of the same person interact. One rages, another offers some guidance. Albertine at 70 tells Albertine at 30 what to expect, but there are also bitter comments from Albertine at 40, 50 and 60.

They all think kindly and sadly of their sister Madeleine who died young before there was a possibility to become bitter.

Bravo to Théâtre Français de Toronto for producing this challenging play with Théâtre Catapulte. While the acting of the company is gripping, compelling and fearless, I found the production too much of a distracting challenge. I so appreciate that Théâtre Français de Toronto also makes their productions accessible to those of us with rusty French, by offering surtitles in English. But placing the surtitles on either side of the stage, instead of above the central playing area,  makes it impossible to watch the production and read the English translation at the same time.

The playing area in Brian Smith’s compact raised stage is bare. Director Jean Stéphane Roy also has his cast of six pace, wander or crawl all over that stage making it even more of a challenge to focus on the action and relationships. And to add further distraction Roy frequently had the lights raise and lower on scenes. The reasons are mystifying and I think known only to the director. Once again, a director gets in the way of the play he is supposed to be illuminating.  It is like watching gripping acting from a distance with all sorts of distraction getting in the way.

A frustrating production in spite of the strong acting from the cast.

Albertine in Five Times (Albertine en cinq temps) plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs until April 28.

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