Friday, September 2, 2011

Review: (Montreal) Les CAFés tragiques

The tragedy of Les CAFés Tragiques 
A cast of seven mostly plods
Review by Richard Burnett

On paper the premise of this half-play / half-movie wasn't half-bad: A play about the making of a movie – incorporating actual film footage shot especially for this play – that gets derailed by a love story. Unfortunately, it's not just the titular film that gets derailed, its the whole damn play. 

Starring, directed and written by Theatre Ste-Catherine artistic director Alain Mercieca, this is reportedly Mercieca's first attempt at a French-language play, and while this "comedy" is mostly in French, there's enough English spoken here to remind audiences that they're in Montreal. Film references litter the play, as do Quebec pop culture references, as a cast of seven plod their way through a series of scenes that look like they were lifted out of SCTV or Saturday Night Live. Unfortunately, sometimes the sum of one's parts does not always make for a better product. There are some scenes here - or rather, moments in scenes, as well as a couple of really funny one-liners - that are entertaining as the cast attempts to make a go-nowhere film directed by main character Jean-Luc Baldachinno (played by Mercieca).  But the actors grin their way through so many scenes, looking like they're trying not to laugh onstage, that I thought this really was an SNL skit. Or one really nihilistic inside joke.

Either way, sitting through the 55-minute first act (which also started 15 minutes late) was brutal. After a 20-minute intermission, there was a 45-minute second act that sped along quicker. Unfortunately, the audience had been waiting 90 minutes for this second-act pay-off, which is a lot to ask of anybody. To be honest, this Fringe-fest league play should be cut down to an hour with no intermission.

That's not to say the whole production is a miss. Mercieca did well with a bare-bones set designed by Mark Louch, And the film sequences are very well done. In fact, they were by far more interesting than the live actors. I grasp the idea Alain Mercieca wanted to explore, but one of the French New Wave directors he so honours in this play, François Truffaut, did it so much better in his 1973 film Day for Night, a film about the making of a film. Rent that DVD instead.

Les CAFés Tragiques continues at Theatre Ste-Catherine (264 Ste-Catherine Street East) through September 11. Tickets $15, $12 in advance.

Tickets: 514-284-3939 or surf to the house's web site.

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