Thursday, March 7, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Bliss

Trent Pardy, Delphine Bienvenu, France Rolland, Jean-Robert Bourdage (photo credit: Jeff Mann)

Céline in the darkness
by Chad Dembski

Back in the Fall when I was looking at the various seasons for theatres in Montreal I remember being stunned at the inclusion of not one but two English productions at Théâtre Aux Écuries a newly renovated theatre space at 7285 Chabot, just north of Jean Talon. One the two main Artistic Directors is Olivier Choinière, a very popular Québecois theatre artist famous for Chant avec Moi (Espace Libre 2011, FTA 2012) and his podcast play during a Théatre du Nouveau Monde (TNM) production that caused much controversy. Bliss is the first English language production at Théatre Aux Ecuries and I personally hope this continues as this theatre is exciting, innovative and has a young audience that other theatres are dying for.

A vivid, tense and sprawling world is described to us that at times honestly had me lost but never bored me.

Bliss is a fascinating memory play of sorts as four Wal-Mart employees recount in exact detail their memory of a Céline Dion concert.  This bleeds into recounting a press conference and then a private tragic moment in her life and one begins to wonder what is being made up and what, if anything is based on fact.  Their attention to detail (flowers on a dresser, who was in a room and when) give an impression that these people were there but gradually a realization hits that this information is being pulled from tabloid newspapers.  Just as I was getting settled into this world of Céline, René and their various employees who buzz around them I was ripped into an alternative universe of a young girl surrounded by a deranged family. The inspiration for the piece was the tragic story of Isabelle Coté, who is chained by her family to a bed for her entire life up until the age of 17.  

The focus of Bliss is on this young girl's connection to Céline Dion and how her music helps her survive this torture and unimaginable life. A vivid, tense and sprawling world is described to us that at times honestly had me lost but never bored me.  Still at the centre of this storytelling and play is the Oracle played with an amazing intensity by Delphine Bienvenu, making her English theatre debut.  She is the only character on microphone and begins to take control of her life through correction of details and a determination to get the ultimate revenge.  The piece is supported by an intense and focused group of actors including Jean-Robert Bourdage, Trent Pardy and France Rolland who calmly and expertly describe their dull life at Wal-Mart and their need to escape to other's stories. The direction by Steven McCarthy is fantastic and shows how years of experience on a show (it started as a National theatre School directing project and has gone to productions at SummerWorks, Buddies in Bad Times theatre and Centaur Theatre's WildSide Festival) can build a confidence and complexity that most shows cannot have due simply to time of development.

Bliss is described as a Greek tragedy meets pop concert and is a populist way to describe this challenging, complex and rewarding piece.  I can easily understand the popularity of this piece (it has been touring and being translated for years) as it crashes two stories; one of the luxurious but monitored Céline Dion and one of the horrifically unknown Isabelle Coté who passed away at 22 after a life that is sad beyond belief. 

Runs to March 9
Read also director Steven McCarthy's answer to The Question

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