Review: ALPHONSE in Barrie, Ont.

by Lynn on August 7, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live, in person, in a private backyard in Barrie, Ont. August 5-8 and Aug. 11, 2021.

Written by Wajdi Mouawad

Directed by Alon Nashman

Translated by: Shelley Tepperman

Cast: Gabe Maharjan

In these times of isolation and uncertainty, a production of Alphonse seems a perfect fit. Gabe Maharjan gives sensitive, ethereal performance playing several characters. The production is pure joy giving the audience a wonderful opportunity to applaud.

The Story. The play is about Alphonse, a 14 -year-old lost boy wandering a road who spins a series of stories, all while various people are looking for him. There are worried parents and siblings; school friends who are concerned; a cop who looks for him and Pierre-Paul René, Alphonse’s fragile, loyal, (imaginary) friend. Each character has a story and a connection to Alphonse and eventually to each other.

The Production.  Alphonse was written by Wajdi Mouawad and published in 1996. Alphonse is a play about isolation, uncertainty, finding the purpose of one’s life, and finding one’s way in a confusing world, so it’s perfect for these weird times we are going through.

It’s about 14 -year-old Alphonse who was on his way home but lost his way, so was wandering a road for two weeks.

This production is part of Talk Is Free Theatre’s Bees in the Bush Festival of provocative theatre. It took place in the beautiful, lush backyard of a private residence. Chairs were provided, properly spaced and we all wore masks except when seated.

The playing area is between two tall trees with protective foliage above. Sometimes Alphonse (Gabe Maharjan) and the other characters will stand on a table covered with a sheet. Occasionally the sheet will be whipped off, with great flare by Maharjan and will become a cape, an opening to a cave and other inventive uses created by director Alon Nashman and I’m sure, his inventive actor. At times impressive hangings will fall from the trees. At one point a contraption is shaken that releases something that looks and smells wonderfully like popcorn. Magic.

Gabe Maharjan plays 27 characters in Alphonse such as: the fit adult Alphonse remembering that time when he got lost on his way home; the diminutive, young Alphonse who keeps walking home and not knowing or worried that he’s lost; his worried mother and his not so worried father; his school friends including a young girl who is his girlfriend; the almost waif-like Pierre-Paul René, the strapping, deep-voiced, caring police officer who goes out looking for Alphonse; the cab driver who takes him home and so many others.

Gabe Maharjan is such a gifted, multi-faceted actor. They give a sensitive, ethereal performance. At times Alphonse and Pierre-Paul René seem ‘otherworldly’ and waif-like, as played by Maharjan. Other characters are tall, athletic and commanding. When Maharjan unfurls their long hair that has been held up by an elastic band, to become Judith, Alphonse’s girlfriend, the transformation is electric. Judith is demure, soft-spoken, almost coy.  Gabe Maharjan is both serious and whimsical.  They segue beautifully from character to character, and each character is clear and distinct.  This is a sweet, vivid, multi-layered performance by a gifted actor in a play that is complex.   

Playwright Wajdi Mouawad has created a play that is a journey of discovery, a playful adventure for children and a deeper exploration of life, the world and the universe for adults.  It asks simple but challenging questions: where are you going? Why do I exist?  His play is full of wild adventure, dazzling imagination, joyful revelations and community.  I loved the open-hearted aspect of this production and everything surrounding it.

Co-presented by Theaturtle and Shakespeare in Action as part of Talk Is Free Theatre’s Bees in the Bush Festival, in Barrie, Ont.

Performs until Aug. 8 and 11, 2011.

Running Time: 1 hour 10 minutes.

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1 Тимур August 16, 2021 at 5:14 pm

The story opens in a notary’s office in Montreal of Alphonse Lebel (Alon Nashman). After the death of their mother Nawal (Bahareh Yaraghi), twins Janine (Sophie Goulet) and Simon (Sergio DiZio) want to learn more about their mother’s past and travel to an unnamed middle Eastern country where she grew up. It is in this country where Janine and Simon learn more about their mother and what she had endured in this country through war and abuse. Other individuals enter the lives of Janine and Simon as they continue to unravel the mystery of this person whom they called their mother. It is through a shocking conclusion to the story that Janine and Simon learn more about the father and brother they never knew they had. As I listened intently to this story unfold, I kept returning to trying to understand Nawal’s actions and why she had to do what she needed to do in order to survive. Bahareh Yaraghi’s vocal work in capturing the extreme emotional pain and suffering this woman had endured was remarkably dignified. Sophie Goulet and Sergio DiZio equally and successfully matched the intensity of Ms. Yaraghi while never resorting to histrionics of any kind as that would have taken me right out of the moment. I was also keen in listening to Alon Nashman as the notary Alphonse. There were moments where I sincerely believed he did truly care about honoring the wishes of his friend and client, Nawal; nevertheless, Nashman’s voice registered periodically in several moments where I wasn’t sure whether or not I believed he upheld his client’s wishes as he should.