Thursday, July 7, 2011

La Duchesse de Langeais - The Central - Fringe Festival

It's that time of year again, the Fringe festival is back in town.

As I step out of The Central I look at my watch and see the play runs 21 minutes short of it's promised 60 minute duration, but you won't mind. The Central is a bar with an amazing patio just behind Honest Ed's with an inside like a house of horrors.  The walls appear to be cobbled together from other walls of other abandoned buildings. There is no room at all, when you walk up the steps to use the bathroom the person at the top has to stop as two people do not have room to pass each other.
The "stage" is a long room, maybe 15 feet long and 7 feet wide. In the 7 feet wide there is a table, three chairs, an aisle and no air conditioning. The chairs are made into rows the length of the 15 foot long room at a very tight angle, leaving you hot and cramped.
Once the play started it became apparent the "stage" was  by the bar as every five minutes or so a server would get a drink. The "stage" was also in the kitchen, separated by a door that did not fully close. The parade of staff streaming into the kitchen did not stop for more than 30 seconds and rarely then. Being beside the kitchen did not help the temperature either which got hotter and hotter as the show went on until the sweat was pouring off my forehead in buckets. Despite the fact that it was only 24 outside, inside it was at least 35 with no breeze.
The show would have been less disturbed if it was held in the middle of the street and like in a suburban road hockey game, the play could have stopped and the audience could have picked up their chairs whenever a car came.
The play would have felt less disrupted if it was held in Union station during rush hour. That may have even added  to the play with the people going about their busy lives while La Duchesse, The Duchesse, pauses to reflect on hers.
The original play was written as a monologue by Michel Tremblay, whose work St Carmen of the Main was recently produced by CanStage. This version is presented with three characters, La Duchesse and her male and female inner voices and the change really works well. It serves to amp up the emotion of the piece, something absent from the recent production of St Carmen.
There's a trick in translation whereby you leave certain words un-translated. It helps to add a feeling of the original and when done well it doesn't matter that the audience doesn't understand the odd word as they get the gist and a sense of another place, in this case Montreal. By the end of the piece the translator gets it right and there's a decimate flow mixed with a French je ne sais quoi. The beginning still needs more work with entire sentences or two sentences left untranslated it only serves to draw non French speakers away from the story.
The cast are all consummate professionals, in perfect attire giving mostly flawless performances. The lead did flub a series of lines in the middle but his acting was fantastic, playing La Duchesse with a coy smile and frowning funnily when her female or male counterpart brings up something unpleasant.
A great piece that deserves to be seen by a wide audience but that I cannot recommend in it's current venue.

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