by Lynn on September 24, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Michel Tremblay
Translated by Linda Gaboriau
Directed by Diana Leblanc
Set by Glen Charles Landry
Costumes by Melanie McNeill
Lighting by Kimberley Purtell
Sound by Todd Charlton
Cast: Geneviève Dufour
Christian Laurin
Patricia Marceau
Suzanne Roberts Smith

A searing play about a damaged family in a breath-taking production brimming with compassion.

The Story. Marie-Lou and Léopold have been married for 20 unhappy years. She married him because she wanted to get out of her stifling family’s house and he was the nicest of her beaux. He was shy and an awkward lover. She hated sex as a result. They had three children and even then he had to force himself on her. One fateful Saturday the couple rehash old hurts, try to explain themsevles and come to an inevitable conclusion. Manon and Carmen are two of their children. Ten years after that fateful Saturday the two sisters rehash old memories and their own hurts.

The Production. Scattered around Glen Charles Landry’s two levelled set are car body parts, a chair here and there and a large crucifix hanging down from the flies. Because the play unfolds in two time periods simultaneously Glen Charles Landry has designed a set that is on two levels. Marie-Lou and Léopold are on an upper level sitting on what looks like car seats. She is stage right and he is stage left. She wears a dress and knits and knits and knits. The finished knitting bunches in her lap and cascades over the edge and down to the stage level. Léopold wears an unbuttoned shirt revealing an undershirt. He wears work pants and he drinks beer after beer after beer. Their scenes take place that fateful Saturday ten years before.

Their two grown daughters, Carmen and Manon, are on the stage level. They are recounting that terrible Saturday ten years later, on the anniversary of what their father did. Carmen wears a revealing costume of hot pants, white knee-high boots and a flowery top. Manon is in a non-descript dress sensible shoes and is as uptight as one can be.

Carmen is a country and western singer; free and easy; extraverted. She tries to convince Manon to leave that house, forget the past, get out from under the crushing influence of the Church and live for a change. Manon refuses. She finds Carmen disgusting, a tart. She can’t stop thinking of what happened and rages at her father for being the cause of so much unhappiness. Carmen tries to reason with her, that their father was not as bad as he had been painted. The worst insult that could be thrown at Manon is that she is just like her father: stubborn, blinkered, angry, and trapped. In fact she is more like her mother than anything: obsessed with the Church, rigid in her self-righteousness—she polishes her various religious icons.

The dialogue shifts back and forth between husband and wife then down to the two sisters in separate dialogues. Occasionally scenes meld, when the two sisters become their younger selves, listening to their parents arguing. These scenes are easily marked in Kimberley Purtell’s lighting when the lighting dims. When those ‘memory’ scenes finish, the lights pop up to ‘normal.’

Marie-Lou and Léopold lob accusations at each other; she was uptight; he was a brute; she hated sex and because her mother didn’t tell her really what to expect; he was never tender; he tried to be but was awkward; she wouldn’t let him near her as a result; pleasure in sex was a sin to her; pleasure in sex should be a joy to him. He found solace in the pub, drinking alone. She found solace in the Church.

This back and fourth between Marie-Lou and Léopold could easily fall into one long bitter rant. Happily this does not happen in Diana Leblanc’s beautifully modulated direction. There are breathtaking moments of tenderness and longing when either Marie-Lou or Léopold try to calmly, quietly explain how they feel; what they wanted from life; how disappointed there are that they never got it.

Carmen and Manon carry on with their own baggage. Manon cannot leave that house for her own life. She cannot break free of her confining memories. Carmen left that house ten years ago seemingly for a freer life, but one wonders what demons haunt her.

The performances are exquisite. As Marie-Lou, Patricia Marceau is hard-edged, resilient, delicate, occasionally anxious to reach out to Léopold, and even in her invective there is a bit of a reticence. It is less a performance of an angry woman and more like one of a defeated, disappointed one.

As Léopold, Christian Laurin does not rage. He lobs darts of comments but it’s not a performance of bellowing. In this moving performance is a man with his own disappointment. Léopold is afraid of everything outside that house. He is afraid to ask for a raise. He is afraid to make friends—he has none, he drinks alone. No one seems to like him, certainly not his children. He too lives a disappointed life.

Geneviève Dufour as Manon is uptight from the way she sits with her knees tight against each other, to her tight jaw when talking to her sister; to the grimace when remembering her parents. You can see a life trapped and confined with no hope of escape or reason for it in this sobering performance.

As Carmen, Suzanne Roberts Smith is confident, physically bold, she swaggers. And she is compassionate. She tries to get her sister to move out. She tries to reason. She is tempered in her urging but persistent until she realizes it’s no use.

Comment. Michel Tremblay writes about families in distress in Quebec, overwhelmed by the strict rules of the Catholic Church. They struggle, fight, rant, survive. Because this is a new translation by Linda Gaboriau the title, Yours Forever, Marie-Lou is a bit different than the one translated by John Van Burek (Forever Yours, Marie-Lou). The heart and soul of the story comes through in any case. I’ve seen various productions of this play. This production is the best of them. It is the most gripping of them because Diana Leblanc and her stunning cast take us past the anger and reveal the compassion and humanity of the piece.

When I left the theatre, I sobbed all the way to the car, in sympathy and heartbreak for every one of those damaged characters. This is a beautiful, revelatory production of a challenging, play.

Soulpepper Theatre Company Presents:

Opened: September 23, 2015.
Closes: October 17, 2015
Cast: 4; 1 man, 3 women
Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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