Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review: (Montreal) L'Ouest Solitaire

Irish tale of sibling battles transposed for a Québecois audience
The sharp Irish-English playwright is one of the best of his class
by Sarah Deshaies

Quebec is often accused of being an introspective, navel-gazing culture that examines and celebrates only its own trends and personalities. Whether this is a function of "maître chez-nous" ideals or simple solipsism is not up for debate. 

What is certain is that L'Ouest Solidaire trumps any suggestion that Quebec culture wholly exists on a self-involved plane.

the Irish brogue has been swapped for roughhousing joual

Whether you've seen the Colin Farrell film In Bruges or any of his plays, you're likely familiar with Martin McDonagh. The sharp Irish-English playwright is one of the best of his class, and is still writing for stage and screen. The Lonesome West is the final piece of his first three-parter, the Leenane trilogy. 

Here, Théâtre Prospero's Bistouri transposes the Tony-nominated The Lonesome West to L'Ouest solitaire with Fanny Britt’s adaption. We're still in small-town Ireland, with the characters and the tale the same, but the Irish brogue has been swapped for roughhousing joual. 

The parallels in both culture are immense, writ on a small stage: an isolated rural community, suffocated by Catholicism and community. And so an Irish story set across the ocean feels at a home on a Montreal stage. 

Coleman (Lucien Bergeron) and Valene (Marc-André Thibault) are bickering brothers living together in the wake of their father’s fatal gun accident. Despite entreaties by Father Welsh (or Père Welsh here), played by Frédéric-Antoine Guimond, the two turn fights over little  things - religious figurines, potato chips - into epic battles that shake the stage and their relationship.

On the fringes of the story is poor Girleen (Marie-Ève Milot), a spunky 17-year-old in a tight dress who can’t stay away from the portly Father. 

It’s a short, explosive play in a small space, with a tiny but excellent cast. Milot is wonderful as the sparkly and sad teenager, while Guimond makes a heartfelt turn as a priest pathetic in his alcoholism and admirable as a would-be peacemaker. Bergeron and Thibault are revoltingly accurate as aimless young men coming to blows over nothing. Neither one in this Cain and Abel duo is admirable, but we long for peace between the two. While Girleen and Père Welsh have a more polished relationship, the dustups and interactions between Valene and Coleman are unvarnished and ugly.  

Director Sébastien Gauthier has manned a production with vivid production details and volatile battles that doesn’t tip the scale into mushy melodrama; McDonagh’s 1997 script is quick-paced and still fresh after 16 years.

Through Britt’s true-to-form adaptation, we explore another place and time through the lens of Quebec sensibilities. Take that, people who say Quebec has no window on the world. 

L’Ouest solitaire was adapted by Fanny Britt from Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West. At Théâtre Prospero until February 9.   
Running time: 120 minutes

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