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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Theatre review: Straight Jacket Winter explores loneliness with whimsy and truth

Story of loneliness and isolation is told with a sense of fun and whimsy

Vancouver’s reputation as a cold and indifferent city is infamous. Even as that sentiment may be viewed by some as one of our city’s greatest urban legends, those who have experienced it will tell you it is very, very real.

Just ask Gilles Poulin-Denis and Esther Duquette, the real-life couple who left their family and friends behind in Montreal to take up residence on the West Coast. The loneliness and alienation they felt as new residents is chronicled in the autobiographical, Straight Jacket Winter.

What sets this story apart from others of its kind though is in the inventiveness in which it is presented. In Straight Jacket Winter, actors Julie Trépanier and Frédéric Lemay portray the new arrivals, while writers Poulin-Denis and Duquette provide support for their own story with commentary, music, overhead projections, and more.

This symbiotic mutualism between actor and writer is refreshing and invigorating, adding a wonderful dimension that is near impossible to obtain once a script is released to the world. After seeing this version of Straight Jacket Winter¸ one has to wonder just how successful it might be without Poulin-Denis and Duquette.

While an exploration of loneliness might sound like a big downer, Poulin-Denis and Duquette have embedded a sense of fun and whimsy that keeps things interesting. In one scene, our wet winters are represented by both projections on glass, and the actors being soaked in water by Poulin-Denis. A repeating game of “dictionary” underscores the central theme of the play, one of home and belonging.

Eventually driving each other a little crazy in their isolation, things get a bit wild and disorienting in the penultimate scene. All is forgiven though in an ending, so beautifully executed, there is a collective awe as the entire audience inches forward in their seats for a better view.

Trépanier and Lemay are absolutely terrific together playing the real-life couple, finding the emotional truth in their performances. Steal a few moments though to watch Poulin-Denis and Duquette on the sidelines; the couple emanate a real joy in watching themselves being portrayed on stage, bursting with what can only be described as heart and love.

My only regret in watching Straight Jacket Winter is I wasn’t able to see it before closing night in Vancouver so I could have encouraged more people to see it. The play is going on tour though, and I have already alerted my friends in Montreal.

Straight Jacket Winter by Esther Duquette and Gilles Poulin-Denis. Directed by Esther Duquette, Gilles Poulin-Denis and Édith Patenaude. Co-produced by 2PAR4, Théâtre français du Centre national des Arts (National Arts Centre French Theatre), and Théâtre la Seizième. No further performances. Visit for more information.

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