There are a few times every year where I regret having barely received a passing grade in my grade nine French class. Last night was one of them as Théâtre la Seizième, Vancouver’s professional Francophone theatre company, presents Michael Tremblay’s Bonjour, là, bonjour.
As with all its mainstage shows, Théâtre la Seizième presents its French language offerings with English surtitles on select evenings. The problem for some of us Anglophones, Tremblay’s work is so dense at times we are barely able to keep up with the translation projected above stage right.
The play’s language barrier is exacerbated by Gilles Poulin-Denis’ staging. With Tremblay’s characters largely static and strewn across the raked stage, it became all but impossible at times to simultaneously read the translation, and watch the action.
There are a few moments when it all came into focus though, with some wonderfully comedic moments among all the dysfunction courtesy Leanna Brodie, Thérèse Champagne and Joey Lespérance. The final moments between father (Lespérance) and son (Vincent Leblanc-Beaudoin) were twistedly heart-felt.
In his program notes, director Poulin-Denis compares Bonjour, là, bonjour to a symphony. The reality though is more a grand family meal. With Drew Facey’s dining room table as its focus, and a multitude of chairs representing the moments in the family’s life, the metaphor becomes more feast than music. Poulin-Denis reinforces that imagery with a singularly exquisite moment atop the dining room table as the family eats sugar pie.
Of course this review opens a debate as to whether the success of Bonjour, là, bonjour can be judged based on one’s inability to understand French. Since Théâtre la Seizième advertises accessibility for non-French speakers, it is fair commentary.
Having attended a previous Théâtre la Seizième production in the same venue last year – the beautiful Straight Jacket Winter – I know it is possible to fully engage as a non-French speaker. With this production, it largely became a choice of watching the actors, or reading the surtitles. The result was a disappointing less than the whole.
Bonjour, là, bonjour by Michael Tremblay. Directed by Gilles Poulin-Denis. A Théâtre la Seizième production. In French with English surtitles on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. On stage at Studio 16 (1555 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver) until March 11. Visit http://seizieme.ca for tickets and information.