Saturday, March 2, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Les Muses orphelines

Maxime Denommée and Léane Labrèche-Dor (photo: François Brunelle)
Beyond The Page
by Nanette Soucy

In retrospect, it would be disingenuous of me to say that I didn’t know what I was getting into. In fact, that I actually knew Michel Marc Bouchard’s Les Muses orphelines was one of the primary reasons I was so excited about seeing it in the first place. Going to see a play I have a clue about before I’ve bought my tickets is an unusual occurrence for me. I was of the breed of theatre student that was entirely too busy with school to actually learn anything, and even now I seldom read plays I don’t have to work on. Last night at Théâtre Jean Duceppe, I was reminded why: it’s almost entirely futile.

In all the hours, all the brainpower I’d spent as an undergrad dissecting Les Muses orphelines on paper, I couldn’t get it.

I may have pored over the pages of Les Muses orphelines in both official languages, and read articles and reviews and written papers and participated in class discussions, really, what’s not to love? A prolific Canadian playwright, a complex family drama, a lie that curls and flowers like Spanish lace. Exoticism. Romance. Chez nous. The nostalgia of the 60’s being nostalgic for the 40’s. A cast of strong women. A man in a ridiculous skirt. But it hardly mattered. Not a stitch of that analysis meant a thing the moment Léane Labrèche-Dor’s Isabelle made her entrance. 

I liked her immediately. In clam diggers and glasses with a book, she reminded me of a lot of my friends. She could have stepped off the bus at UQAM a block away. Except she’s a bit stunted somehow. She wants to know everything, yet she thinks she knows nothing, and her family drive their heads into the wall attempting to discourage the former and reinforce the latter. Les Tanguay’s entire mythology is crystallized in Isabelle. The lie they told her about what happened when she was little, the lie they were told. Her eldest sister and keeper Catherine’s entire life, devoted herself to preventing her childhood from being ruined by their mother’s departure by never permitting that childhood to end. In her sly innocence, with all the wit and cunning she has always been told she never had, Isabelle turns the lie on its head.

Throughout, we hear three very different siblings tell us of the effects of parental abandonment on their lives, while their nerdy kid sister shows us in a wrenching, sardonic, adorable, and intensely heartbreaking way what happened, and more insidiously, what everybody else’s reaction to what happened, did to her. 

Labrèche-Dor’s performance is nothing short of emotional athleticism. At varying moments I felt my heart in my throat, my gut in knots, my face scrunched up, tears welling through fits of laughter as she took me, an adult adoptee of about the same age, to parts of my own experience with parental loss I’d never watched anyone else go through. 

In all the hours, all the brainpower I’d spent as an undergrad dissecting Les Muses orphelines on paper, I couldn’t get it. My adoption was never a secret to me, it’s not like I couldn’t have intellectualised that my interest in the play in school might have had something to do with it if someone had asked. But plays are not intended to be on paper. They are meant to be witnessed. They live in bodies. Paper doesn’t move. Analyzing a play in a classroom is by nature objective. To witness the embodiment of pain, grief, growth, humour, elevation is a visceral experience, and the only way to ultimately get it.

Les Muses orphelines runs until March 30th.

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