Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Hypno

Marie-Hélène Gosselin, Martin Tremblay Photo: Marie-Andrée Lemire

Things Hypnosis Won’t Let You Forget.
by Nanette Soucy

In the tiny, low-ceilinged and intimate venue of Théâtre Prospéro, Tsunami Théâtre brings us Hypno, a kind of Ouroborean slapstick farce about a stage hypnotist, his oblivious wife, an obsessed fan seeking help for his gelid wife’s self image problem, and the wacky ways in which the couples intersect.  This compact new work by Simon Boudreau clocks in at a brief but narratively complicated hour without intermission. Lines are quick, snappy, and rhythmic, delivered with a stock comedic cadence that verges on corny, but without eliciting a whole lot of groaning.

“Si vous aviez vu la façon donc elle regardais notre voisin, M. Nguyen!”

As company director, Martin Grenier, who also plays the role of the aforementioned obsessed fan notes, there is no need to caricaturize the characters, the script does that work all on its own. I was advised before my attendance that the actor playing Hypnotist “le Prince” François Erickson, Martin Tremblay, had in fact had to fill in for another at the last minute, a fact that I forgot completely until after the show. Tremblay’s telegenic looks and icy stare made for a convincing purveyor of fabricated woo-woo. Also impressive is Marie-Hélène Boisson in the role of Rogère, who manages to play homeliness as the ugly wife-cum-wanton sex goddess, bringing in the majority of the laughs embedded in the short but serviceably entertaining piece, while Grenier, in the role of her fanatical husband, reels in the rest.

All in all, I could have said that Hypno was a neat little, light-hearted way to spend an hour, even on a stormy night. The show was plugging along nicely, and I found myself pleasantly engaged in the circuitous and at times suspenseful story, and starting to feel as if I was watching a rare example of camp that didn’t cause my eyes to roll when I heard something that makes it impossible for me to describe it now as a harmless hour of comedy.

With the help of le Prince, Rogère is hypnotized into believing she’s beautiful, and acquires an insatiable sexual appetite as a result. While describing the trials and humiliation of life with his suddenly libidinous wife, her husband laments, 

“Si vous aviez vu la façon donc elle regardais notre voisin, M. Nguyen!”

Objectively, the line isn’t problematic in and of itself. But in the delivery, and most markedly in the audience reaction, it was clear that the joke was intended at the expense of the neighbour, who is made out to be hilariously unlustworthy based on nothing other than his Vietnamese name. Whether we’re at Stratford, the Place-des-Arts, or the Fringe, whether you’re a company in school, fresh out of it, or producing for decades, this shit can’t fly. Seriously. This is the 21st century. My disgust is more with the  audience than the company, but nonetheless, this type of casual racism is both ugly and unacceptable. There might have been room, in this elaborate plot, to tackle ideas of attractiveness, and make a satirical point of it, but this is not that type of comedy. It’s not set up to make those points. Had the show been otherwise perfect in every way, it still would have left a bad taste in my mouth. I may hope that this would be true for anyone, but judging by the audience reaction, there’s obviously still a local appetite for making fun of people of colour. I don’t think it’s an appetite that young companies, especially, can be let off the hook for feeding.

Hypno runs until April 6th.

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