Mathieu Quesnel and Josée Deschênes (Photo: Suzane O'Neil)
Catching Up With The Wrong Play
A story of returning from war is one which should have resonance
by Gaëtan L. CharleboisThe performance I saw tonight of Pierre-Michel Tremblay's Au Champs de Mars is actually the touring production of a very successful Théâtre de La Manufacture/La Licorne show from last year which I was not able to catch. I was not able to see the English-language production of the piece which also played Montreal last season but it, too, was extraordinarily well-received by the critical community. On this leg of its tour, the work is playing at Théâtre du Rideau Vert, a house considerably more staid than La Licorne. It was going to be interesting, right from the start, to see if an RV-style crowd (RV in both senses) would be able to handle a little LL rock 'n' roll.
...the actors played to the laughs.
Well, I suppose I can blame a good part of many of the problems with the evening on the audience, but the designers, actors and director must share the blame for what must be the most flat and aimless production of a solid play I have seen in a very long time. There are some good jokes in the piece but this audience felt those made the whole piece a comedy and laughed all the way through at all the oddest moments. After all, it is the story of a returning soldier with PTSD being treated by a psychiatrist and exploited by a film maker. Violence is always possible. But there was not an instant - even the most important one - where you got the impression this was anything but a drab little comic drama. Worse, the actors played to the laughs. (I have seen this before with long runs of plays with funny lines - the actors sometimes begin to play to those lines and the work loses all its sense.)
Michel Monty may have decided to take the play in another direction, but away from the text is never the right one.
I accept there are limitations in set and lighting for a tour but Patricia Ruel's set design told us nothing about the characters (the soldier, a drug and alcohol mess, lives in a page from an Ikea catalogue). Indeed the whole look of the evening (including Guy Simard's lighting) was an eyesore.
And where was the director? Michel Monty may have decided to take the play in another direction, but away from the text is never the right one. He allowed every actor to be OTT, except the lead (a painfully miscast Mathieu Quesnel as the soldier).
This is how I felt 30 minutes into the 70, for the other 40 I just listened. I listened to a play so full of potential and wisdom, darkness and humour, and when the applause hit me the at the end, I understood that I had not seen so much as a glimpse of that play.
Au Champs de Mars is on until November 12 at Théâtre du Rideau vert. The tour continues until December 10, including a stop in Vancouver November 16-19 and in Sudbury September 24-26. See link for other venues.