Sunday, March 10, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Jocaste Reine

Marianne Marceau, Louise Marleau, Maryse Lapierre  (Photo credit: Yves Renaud)

Jocasta: a cougar tale for all time
Huston’s femme-first version of Oedipus Rex probes the woman behind the man she birthed
by Sarah Deshaies

Jocasta: passionate cougar, incestuous woman, mother to five children.

Written in 2009, Nancy Huston’s play Jocasta Regina pulls back the curtain of time on a powerful character doomed by cruel Greek fate. 

Directed by Lorraine Pintal, Théâtre du Nouveau Monde’s mounting of Jocaste reine nearly and neatly coincided with Women’s Day on Friday. After thousands of years, we get to approach this well-worn story from Jocasta’s point of view; seeing her with her children, and her passionate embraces with her son/husband. We see shades of a modern woman with desires and dreams, and not just the mask of a woman with a sad story.

Hailed as a champion for getting rid of the monster, he marries Jocasta, takes the throne and fulfills the prophecy.

If you don’t recall the story: Theban Queen Jocasta bears her husband Laius a son. Because a prophecy that warns the king he cannot save Thebes if he has a child, the baby (Oedipus) is bound by its feet and is taken to die of exposure. Instead, Oedipus ends up being adopted by the King and Queen of Corinth. When the grown Oedipus learns of the prophecy that decrees he will kill his father and marry his mother, he flees to escape his fate.

Cue to the hero’s travels on the road, where he kills Laius in an argument, and later defeats the Sphinx threatening Thebes. Hailed as a champion for getting rid of the monster, he marries Jocasta, takes the throne and fulfills the prophecy. Twenty years go by, and we come in. Once secrets are revealed, things come crashing down. 

Powerhouse actress Louise Marleau plays our doomed queen with a shorn shock of blonde hair. Marleau has played some of literature’s greatest heroines onstage over her long career. She’s also aware of the dearth of powerful roles like these for older women: in a La Presse interview, she admonished Quebec film for not showcasing enough of her kind. Power to her. Alongside Marleau is Monique Mercure as Eudoxia, the wizened servant. Jean-Sébastien Ouellette as Oedipus sometimes veers into over-the-top, old school Greek dramatics; in this version, Oedipus as a consummate family man who can’t get over the truth, while Jocaste tries to rationalize their relationship. 

The set, the styling and the narrator mark this as a modern play. Our suit-clad narrator Le Coryphée (Hugues Frenette, badly in need of a cough drop) emerges from the audience, and is our sarcastic guide to the story, questioning the absurdity of Jocasta and Oedipus’s union and unravelling. The grand set crumbles away elegantly as our royal family erodes. The use of a shallow water pool downstage centre is a neat visual touch for the physical confrontations in the show. A special shoutout goes to Claire Gignac, the multi-instrumentalist who breathes life into the story from one side of the stage with beautifully haunting music and singing. She is as much a part of this story as any of the actors. 

Jocaste reine had its Canadian premiere just over a year ago in Quebec City, now it descends on Montreal audiences. See it to probe more deeply into the story of a woman who is more than just a namesake for a Freudian condition. 

Jocaste reine is onstage at Théâtre du Nouveau Monde until March 30. 
Length: 1 hour 40 minutes, no intermission. 

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