For its latest production, Théâtre la Seizième commissioned Governor General’s Literary Award-winning playwright David Paquet to create a work specifically for Vancouver’s French-language theatre company. The result is Le Soulier.
“He’s one of my favorite playwrights,” says Esther Duquette, Théâtre la Seizième’s artistic and managing director, who also co-directs the play. “He’s so talented, so funny, and his writing is very unique.”
“And his plays are produced all over the world,” adds co-director Gilles Poulin-Denis. “They’ve been translated into German, to English, so it’s very exciting to have him write for la Seizième.”
Théâtre la Seizième’s relationship with Paquet first began in 2012 with the Jessie Award-winning production of his play Porc-épic. It was during the run of this show where Duquette knew it would only be a matter time before the company would commission him to write for them.
Fast-forward a couple of years and Paquet was given a relatively freehand in deciding on the final product for the commissioned work.
“We didn’t give him many parameters,” says Duquette. “We asked him to write a main stage show for adults, and asked him to keep it to a maximum of five or six actors. But he wrote this beautiful play for four actors, so it’s perfect.”
Translated to “The Shoe” in English, Pacquet describes his play as a bipolar comedy.
“In the sense that it is kind of a roller coaster ride,” explains Poulin-Denis. “We go from very funny moments, to touching a bit more on the dramatic and tragic moments of the characters’ lives.”
Dealing indirectly with mental illness, Poulin-Denis goes onto say it has more to do with how we support and help each other than in dealing with the illness itself.
“I think that’s what’s very interesting about this play; it’s very human and warm,” he continues.
Set inside a dental office, Le Soulier follows mom Melanie and her 8-year old son Benoit, who visit the dentist as a result of a toothache.
“They go to the dentist, but it’s never simple with Benoit,” says Duquette. “He’s a troubled child and they arrive at this really strange dentist office where the dentist is very awkward, and the secretary is very outgoing and is a little bit in your face. And it’s really about those four characters meeting and trying to help each other, while dealing with issues in their own lives.”
Writing the play with the four actors (Félix Beauchamp, Annie Lefebvre, Joey Lespérance, and France Perras) of the cast in mind, it is another aspect of the commission which Duquette finds special.
“We don’t often have this chance,” she says. “But what I really like about it is the fact that it’s very touching, but also very funny. You deal with sensitive subjects like mental illness, but it’s never edgy. It’s always fun and it’s served in a way that is not overwhelming. You still have a very entertaining moment at the theater. This, I think is magical. It’s difficult to do, but David does it so well.”
In addition to writing Le Soulier for the actors in this world premiere, Paquet also took inspiration, as many playwrights do, from those around him.
“David comes to Vancouver almost every year and he made friends with a lot of francophone actors here, so when he wrote the play, he wrote with his francophone friends in mind,” says Duquette.
This is not the first project that Duquette and Poulin-Denis have worked on together, having previously created and directed the Jessie Award-nominated Straight Jacket Winter in 2016.
“We’ve been together for many years, so we sometimes tend to share a brain in a certain way,” says Poulin-Denis with a laugh. “So, it makes it a bit easier in the rehearsal space because we’re often on the same page and then when we’re not, it’s always interesting because it offers many different options and variations for different scenes.”
And while Théâtre la Seizième’s mandate is to present Canadian works in French, it also goes to some length to ensure Anglophone audiences can participate by providing English surtitles for its productions, including Le Soulier.
It is an aspect of their work that the two are proud of, and something Duquette also sees playing into the ongoing conversation in Vancouver about diversity in the theatre.
“We often think about diversity on the visual perspective, but I think the francophone community is obviously part of this diversity,” says Duquette. “In theatre, that is based on language, [surtitles are] another aspect of making this diversity accessible.”
The opportunity to share Paquet’s work to a Vancouver audience is exciting to both.
“Even though his plays are available in English, other than Porc-epic they have never been produced in Vancouver. So, I think it’s great to discover different playwrights work,” says Poulin-Denis.
“And, there’s a lot of surprises in the script,” adds Duquette. “Audiences will enjoy it, feel things, and be able to think about important subjects, while still being entertained.”
Le Soulier plays Studio 16 (1555 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver) February 27 – March 9. In French, presented with English surtitles on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Visit seizieme.ca for tickets and information.