Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) Écume

Dreamy play blurs the natural and the supernatural
Vancouver’s one French-language theatre presents a captivating tale
by Chris Lane

What happens when a biochemist firmly rooted in trusting science over all matters mystical falls in love with a supernatural being?

You get Écume, a charming tale of two lovers trying to untangle fact from fiction, and bridge the gap between the normal and the paranormal.

Émile, the young biochemist, meets Morgane at the local pool. He saves her from what seemed like drowning, even though he soon finds out that she can happily stay underwater for eight or nine minutes at a time. He quickly falls in love with the mysterious Morgane, and she gets pregnant - as soon as the deed is done, she just knows.

In a cast of odd characters, Momo is certainly the oddest.

Morgane is certainly no ordinary human, but Émile’s logical mind cannot accept that she may well be part fish, nor does he have any less trouble grappling with the story of her mother, Simone.

Simone passed away five years ago, but Morgane is intent on telling her about the pregnancy. Simone has a friend who can help with that: Monsieur Momo, an undertaker who cannot get a reprieve from people both dead and alive pestering him to act as a medium.

In a cast of odd characters, Momo is certainly the oddest. Marc-André Charette portrays an enigmatic, troubled and gentle character with poise and conviction, and is a delight to watch. His costume, hair and makeup, all by Geneviève Couture (who also plays the eerie and endearing Simone) are striking, and complete Charette’s transformation into a truly otherworldly character that could make a Tim Burton creation look tame.

All four characters are frequently on stage at once even when just two of them are talking, as the play blurs the line between the world of the living, and the world of spirits.  

Joëlle Bourdon shines as Morgane, and it’s easy to see how Émile could fall for such a captivating creature. Pierre Antoine Lafon Simard plays a charming Émile. He provides plenty of comic relief in the scenes where he mulls over his confusing situation with his life coach, in hilariously broken English because he wants to practice.

Playwright and director Anne-Marie White has created a remarkably original tale, filled with questions of faith, fear, and fiction. The central narrative of the play is the gradual unraveling of the stories Simone has told her daughter, while Émile tries to figure out how much of it he can allow himself to believe. While the plot is far-fetched and at times a little confusing, the raw human emotions keep this story afloat, and the compelling acting and inspired staging make this a very worthwhile experience.

Even audience members whose French isn’t perfect can thoroughly enjoy this show. The actors at times move around the stage like dancers, and the excellent soundtrack complements the choreography and artistic costumes to create a grown-up conte de fée that’s absorbing even if you don’t entirely understand the plot.

Écume is playing April 17 to 20. The French-language play will include English surtitles on a projection screen above the stage for the Thursday and Saturday shows. Presented by Théâtre de la Seizième, it is playing at Studio 16 in La maison de la francophonie (1555 West 7th).

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