Tony Nappo, Matthew Edison (photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann)
Tremblay juggles realities
by Dave Ross
Michel Tremblay is arguably one of Canada’s foremost playwrights. His body of work is enormous, and many have been translated into English, functioning beautifully even outside their native language. Such is the case with “The Real World?” running now at Tarragon Theatre.
The play is a compact one—7 actors, one set, 90 minutes, no intermission. This compactness doesn’t preclude Tremblay from creating a carefully layered and nuanced story with an overarching narrative direction that pushes the audience towards a truth they can see coming but don’t want to acknowledge. The central figure of the play is Claude, the son of Alex and Madeleine. Set in the 1960s in Montreal, Claude is the intellectual in the family and has ambitions to be a playwright. The play begins with the discord in Claude’s family after his mother reads his first script, in which the entire family, including his sister Mariette, is named. At this point Claude’s script emerges into the play, layering Claude’s viewpoints of events in his family overtop of his reality. The result is a kind of theatrical counterpoint. With the exception of Claude, each family member is portrayed by two actors—one is Claude’s reality, the second is from Claude’s script. Claude is the only character who bridges the two stories.
This is one of the few plays I have seen where I have not thought a performer could use some polish.
Director Richard Rose has assembled an extremely capable cast. Matthew Edison as Claude delivers a wonderful performance, while Jane Spidell as Madelaine 1 is truly breathtaking, fully embodying the emotions she must portray. Indeed, the entire cast delivers stunning performances. This is one of the few plays I have seen where I have not thought a performer could use some polish. Special mention is also due to Cliff Saunders as Alex 2, whose destructive rage is terrifying to witness. The play covers extremely difficult material, and the performers execute their roles in such a way that leaves you squirming in your seat.
The set and costume design by Charlotte Dean is unremarkable, but this is not a criticism. Dean’s set is completely unobtrusive, providing the performers with the perfect environment to tell Tremblay’s story. I do have one small criticism here—for one brief moment late in the play the set plays a sudden and very dramatic role, but only for a few seconds, and I feel that this distracts somewhat from the story. Dean’s costumes are completely faithful to the era and complement the set perfectly. The music and sound design by Emily Porter is appropriately minimal, and the haunting Mendelssohn recording she selects for sections of this play is perfectly suited to the mood of the production.
Tremblay’s script leaves the audience to consider what the real world is for Claude while never answering the question. This revival at Tarragon Theatre is the perfect opportunity to see a masterpiece by an amazing Canadian playwright performed by an incredibly talented cast. Good theatre should affect you profoundly, and this play does not disappoint.