Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Des couteaux dans les poules

Jean-François Casabonne, Stéphane Jacques and Isabelle Roy (Photo credit: Matthew Fournier)
The Mighty Pen
A play on the primacy of words.
by Nanette Soucy

In a room that is hazy and warm, in a timeless dark age of a far-flung Scottish countryside, we meet a young unnamed woman and her labourer husband William. The singular and most immediately striking feature of La Veillée’s primal and sparse Des couteaux dans les poules is the language employed, or perhaps invented by Scottish playwright David Harrower. Elevating the principle of class markers in a speaker’s language to poetry, he shows us the dynamics between William and his wife, their station in the village, the superstition and taboos of their culture, in large part, by the language they use. The first few moments of our time with them reveal volumes about their world. Their exchanges are visceral, and economical. They share a limited vocabulary to express their thoughts and experience, and as per their time and place, William has many more words to draw from than his wife. Their conversation topics are limited. The day’s toil. Their sweetness and lust. The animals. The property. Practical vocabulary lessons for the curious and perceptive girl. When a skittish pregnant filly requires William’s undivided attention, he instructs his wife to take the grain to the miller in his place.

The production stands on the excellence of its ensemble. 

It is upon meeting the locally reviled, literate miller who speaks eloquently of his rich internal life, played shrewdly by Jean-François Casabonne, that the deftness of actors Stéphane Jacques and Isabelle Roy in their roles as husband and wife becomes apparent. The frustrating and repressive state of not having the words to explain or express their medieval realities, or understand themselves or each other is maneuvered with visceral subtlety. Casabonne, in contrast, wielding the larger language catalogue, appears more relatable and civilized to our 21st century eyes, that see the witchcraft of his shiny fountain pen as primitive superstition. It is easy to see the mammalian instincts of the peasant couple who relish in skipping baths to spend the night curled up inside the musk of each other’s day, and see them as lesser animals. Gilbert’s character is a catalyst for their evolution, the young woman in particular, the arc of this growth throughout the imperceptible hour and fifty minutes of the play is both primal and elegant.

The production stands on the excellence of its ensemble. Beyond the well matched skill of its three actors, the strength of the sparse, yet warmly natural minimalist setting, the pefectly stark and simple lighting, and especially the baleful, foreboding drone of the score by sound designer Francis Rossignol, tie together with this arresting script to make for a theatrical experience that may haunt me for weeks to come.

Des couteaux dans les poules runs until March 23rd.

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