THE BASICS: This incisive character study by French Canadian author Michel Tremblay plays in repetory at the Shaw’s Court House Theatre through October 10th. The production, directed by Micheline Chevrier, uses a brand new translation by Linda Gaboriau. The play runs a lean 90 minutes; there is no intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: French Canada, 1982. Albertine, a rather sad and lonely woman of 70, spends her first day in a retirement home, in the company of ghostly incarnations of herself at ages 30, 40, 50, and 60, and also with the spirit of her deceased sister Madeleine, as she was about 40 years ago. These six women/spirits recall, recount, react, recriminate, rejoice, rage, reminisce. By the close, we have a pretty complete picture of one woman’s life–shaped by unhappy circumstances and run aground by poor choices, plus inadequate communication and coping skills. It’s a life with just a few small victories and just a little peace of mind, wrung at great effort from a well of anger and pain. Not really the stuff of tragedy, but pathos abounds, and one would have to be made of stone to remain unmoved.
THE CAST: Patricia Hamilton anchors the piece strongly as Albertine at 70–the woman who’s found her feet again late in life and is determined to finish things off with a little dignity. Mary Haney also shines as Albertine at 50–a woman who has finally stopped taking orders, cast off malignant family ties, and who is reveling in new found work and freedom. Neither Marla McLean as the young, dreamy, semi-hopeful Albertine or Wendy Thatcher as the pill-popping, come-apart Albertine of 60 seem quite strong enough on stage, but Jenny Wright’s trapped, bitter 40 year old Albertine rings out loud and clear. Nicola Correia-Damude provides a lovely, telling contrast as Albertine’s sweet-natured, contented sister, Madeleine.
THE PRODUCTION: Director Micheline Chevrier gets good, interactive ensemble work from her talented cast, and makes Tremblay’s inventive theatrical construct work. I get the strong impression that the flavor and poetry of Tremblay’s distinctively Canadian French (known as joual) have been lost in this new translation; the language is pretty humdrum. I was also less than favorably impressed with Teresa Przybylski’s set–a spiky, sculptural metal backdrop, which, though abstract, seems to be at odds with both the high emotions and dreaminess of the proceedings.
FINAL THOUGHTS: OK, I have some reservations, but this is a powerful piece of modern theater, well acted and ultimately very moving. This is not something you are likely to catch anywhere else, at least in this region, so I’d recommend you theater-lovers out there “seize the day”. That said, women will probably like ALBERTINE better than men; this is the story of a woman’s life, after all, and deals with some decidedly feminine issues. As I left the theater, there was still a lot of eye-drying going on among the womenfolk.
RATING: FOUR BUFFALOS
Top image: David Cooper Photography