Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Yellow Moon: La ballade de Leila et Lee

(photo: Rolline Laporte)
Yellow Moon shines bright at La Licorne
La ballade de Leila et Lee is a strong remount of 2010 show
by Sarah Deshaies

On the morning of January 23, teen duo Leila and Lee skip their small Scottish town, fleeing insecurity, boredom and a dead body. Their adventure, inspired by the folk song of Stagger Lee, is a funny, dark, tragic, touching and imbued with adolescent awkwardness. Yellow Moon was a critical hit in 2010 at L’Espace Go. Following a recent Canadian tour that began in January, the Théâtre de La Manufacture production returns to Montreal at La Licorne. With a packed and warm welcome on hand at Tuesday’s opening night, 2013’s remount will also likely be a smash.

Our performers slip in and out of the voice of narrator and character, giving Yellow Moon a dynamic feel.

Before you see the show, think about the cross-cultural connections unfolding: a Missourian murder ballad, told again and again by American troubadours like Woody Guthrie and Nick Cave, inspires a Scottish playwright, which is then staged by a Quebecois theatre company. Maryse Warda’s translation strikes the right balance between vibrant joual and English proper nouns pronounced to comedic effect. 

David Greig, the Edinburgh-born, Nigeria-raised playwright, scripts a play at once disjointed and fluid. Our performers slip in and out of the voice of narrator and character, giving Yellow Moon a dynamic feel.

Meanwhile, Sylvain Bélanger’s direction pulls all the elements into place. The lighting and music design help construct the realistic feel of the play: the twinkling of piano keys reflects urgency and poignancy, and the light is inventive. La Licorne’s stage is rust-red, with rocks and baskets scattered over a sparse landscape. 

The two heroes who fill this bare world are in search of better things for themselves. Leila (Sylvie de Morais) is a quiet Muslim girl whose modest outfit covers up her self-inflicted cutting scars. Lee (Frank Benoit Drouin-Germain) is a bad kid - fatherless, angry, in trouble with the law and school officials. She seeks refuge in celebrity magazines plucked from supermarket shelves. He plans a better future through his career plans: becoming his town’s only pimp. 

The two spend a quiet evening in a cemetery, but following a violent altercation, they’re both on the lam. Lee’s half-baked plan is to find his father, who abandoned him years ago. So Leila and Lee clamber up north, and shack up with Frank (Denis Bernard), a bear of a caretaker tending to a property-for-rent.
Our cast, which also includes the polished Monique Spaziani in a variety of roles, pulls in a tight ensemble performance. 

Secrets are spilled, the cops are called, a tragedy unfolds, and you’ll leave La Licorne feeling very satisfied. 

Yellow Moon: La ballade de Leila et Lee runs until March 23 at La Licorne, 4559 Papineau. Length: 85 minutes, no intermission. 

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