Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: (Montreal) Mon frère est enceinte

(photo credit: Jonathan Wenk)

Johanna Nutter does not only tell a very personal story, but also crosses over to perform in French
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

I have been waiting to see Johanna Nutter's My Pregnant Brother for a long time and was even more excited to be seeing it opening night, performed by the actor/playwright, in French. It is as if she has taken a personal tale and ratcheted the intensity up a notch, taking risks few actors dare. I had followed Nutter's blog at CharPo religiously and had studied Barbara Ford's profile of the actor and was ready...or thought that I was ready.

...together with her director, Jeremy Taylor, she has fashioned an utterly viable piece of theatre.

I wasn't quite. What Nutters presents in this solo work is a portrait of her life as a member of a family who counts almost completely on her; one day her brother - who is in mid-gender transition from female - announces that he is pregnant. That pregnancy focuses all that is right and, especially, wrong in Nutter's relationship with her "sibling" and her mother. The story, in and of itself, is fascinating and the actor could simply sit on a chair and tell it. But together with her director, Jeremy Taylor, she has fashioned an utterly viable piece of theatre.

Yes, quibblers will peck at the fact the the Fringe Festival roots of the piece are still present in its rough and ready aesthetic - but I will suggest that we have come to accept that style in the mainstream - even, that that aesthetic has actually existed for a long time; at least since Beckett's forlorn little tree. An empty stage is now utterly acceptable and in the case of this work, serves Nutter well. Very well.

...no one, it seemed to me, was breathing. 

For the tone the actor adopts - a crystalline fragile one (which could - with a breath  - become mawkish), guides us through this complex story of gender, sex and familial status, enveloping us in the same naïveté (wonderment mixed with apprehension) that Nutter herself experienced as she lived the events. Nutter pulls us in completely. The opening night audience accepted her direct stares into the crowd, her half-volume sharing of jokes, her ever-so-gentle accent and allowed the silences to play out. And here is where I must mention, again, Taylor's work for he has insisted the actor play those silences - inhabit the stillness - and the quietness of certain moments in the play was shared by the house: no one, it seemed to me, was breathing.

Mon frère est enceinte (playing on Fridays in its original English version) is as funny as it is soul-plumbingly moving and it shows an actor (seen before) at the very height of her powers.

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