Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday Feature: Louis Patrick Leroux on Ludwig & Mae

On the staging of Ludwig & Mae
by Louis Patrick Leroux

[Louis Patrick Leroux is a playwright, director, and professor who holds a joint appointment in the departments of English and French Studies at Concordia University where he teaches playwriting and Québec drama and literature. He is a member of the Hexagram Institute for research/creation in media arts and technology, where he runs Resonance Lab. Recent projects include a video installation, Milford Haven, at matralab, a theatrical production of Witchcraft at Concordia (codirected), and Hypertext and Performance: A Resonant Response to Baillie’s Witchcraft (theatre, dance, website). Recent publications include Dialogues fantasques pour causeurs éperdus (2012), Se taire (2010), Ludwig & Mae (2009). Originally from Eastern Ontario, he founded Ottawa’s Théâtre la Catapulte, which he ran from 1992 to 1998. He was also a cofounder of la Nouvelle scène theatre space in Ottawa. The original French productions of Ludwig & Mae and other plays such as Le rêve totalitaire de dieu l’amibe (a cybernetic anti-opera) established Louis Patrick Leroux as a leading figure of the Franco-Ontarian renewal of the 1990s. Embedded has been translated into English, German, and Spanish. This will be the Montreal premiere of the three plays and the world premiere of the English translations of Apocalypse and Resurrection.]

I wrote these plays in my early 20s. They were staged respectively in 1994 (La litière/Embedded), 1995 (Rappel/Apocalypse), and 1996 (Ressusciter/Resurrection). One was an entreaty to a dialogue between sexes and generations, a dialogue of infinite possibilities and readings but a dialogue unable to detract from the inevitable outcome; the second was a provocation through the cathartic staging of desperation; the third, a reconciliation with the other, but especially with oneself. 

The first public reading of an early draft of Embbeded was only yesterday… in May 1993. Curt Cobain was still alive and unleashing his rage against the world. After having quit school on the opening night of the show I was directing as my final project in the Theatre Department, and shaving my head, and declaring that university professors were moribund and most likely toxic, I established a punk persona in spite of my polite manner. I wrote frantically… Angry plays, sardonic poetry, eager manifestos. Touring and learning my trade as an actor and playwright in residence (at Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario), starting a theatre company (Théâtre la Catapulte), raging against the fuddy-duddyness of Canadian theatre, of Canadian society, of the previous generation, the baby-boomers, who essentially had a firm hold over both authority and protest as they had done it all (or so they claimed)… 20 years previously. I was writing and ranting, and staging plays to find a way out of an essential identity conundrum: who was I; who were we, as a disallowed and dismissed generation; what was our role? How could we play a role in a society centred on a single generation’s inflated sense of itself?

They’re imagining it as a reality show, as a peep show, they’re considering live-streaming the show. Brave new world.

Fast forward 20 years... Sitting in a Montreal basement surrounded by excited, driven 20-somethings listening to the three plays being read, receiving them like punches, jabs, kicks to the face. Noticing the shy glances of the actors. “Yes, I wrote this. Yes, you’ll need to say this out loud. No need to be polite about it. Sucker-punch the audience, the now 40-something playwright, maybe even yourself.” I’ve just flown back from Chile, where another group of young, talented actors are working on their version of Embedded, where the play somehow resonates deeply with the actors in a post-post-Pinochet society. They’re imagining it as a reality show, as a peep show, they’re considering live-streaming the show. Brave new world. This generation, on two continents, in two different languages from the original French in which the plays were written, is connecting and engaging with these plays, with each other, with a sense of revolt which translates aesthetically and morally. 

After years of teaching playwriting at Concordia and reading very few “angry young plays,” I was starting to think that a certain complacency had come down upon youth. Then there was the “printemps érable” and the “Occupy” movement, occupy as in invest physically and morally in order to transgress, not only occupy as in to keep busy, as in to occupy one’s time.  I don’t agree with all of the tactics used by the Occupy/Maple Spring crowd, nor with all of their positions (some closer to the status quo than they would care to admit, some more entitled than activists), but it seems as though something hasn’t happened collectively in so long, that the dramatic events (ah—the dramatic event, song to a playwright and drama prof’s ears) come as a welcomed and necessary public debate. Youth’s role is to provoke and to question. Ludwig would have loved all of this. But he killed himself out of spite, out of cowardice, out of fear of failing; might as well subvert failure by cheating it, he seemed to think. Mae, on the other hand, gets it. She’s moved on, she’s not protesting, but she gets that to be 20 is to dream, to imagine the what-ifs, the why-nots, to raise in revolt against barriers and to open up onto possibilities and to actively imagine one’s place in society. The “Me” Generation is not whiny; it is active and activist. It negotiates. It refuses unnecessary compromise and is keen to engage in debate. But it also expects much from the previous generations and from society. It is learning some hard realities (society’s choices are complex and change is slow and usually incremental), but remains undeterred in its resolve. 

I wrote Mae’s final monologue, Resurrection, as a response to my own intolerable premise.

My angry young plays are word- and discourse-heavy. They translate Ludwig’s paradoxical situation of having too many words and too little sense of to say them properly to the people who count. Ludwig turns his violence inward and it gets ugly. Words count, they maim, they are punches, kicks, pokes, lashes, sometimes caresses, sometimes bandages, but mostly violent playthings. They keep the characters on their toes. They will undo Ludwig, but allow Mae to exist as an individual, to testify, and to become master of her own destiny. 

I wrote Mae’s final monologue, Resurrection, as a response to my own intolerable premise. Showing the self-inflicted violence of  20-somethings in response to a sense of social and moral exclusion would have cathartic effects, but might it now offer a macabre spectacle of complacency? Mae’s voice needed to emerge. She needed to resurrect from this tragedy and learn to engage with others rather than to wallow in generational misery. The plays written between 1990 and 1996 echoed my own early 20s (18 to 24), but they mostly translated what I saw and heard around me: much confusion behind assertions, much hope masked by cynicism. 

With this production, a new company is making these plays its own, layering its own discourse and sensibility, its own fears and ambitions with those which were mine, and perhaps still are to a certain extent. This time, I will be sitting in the audience, receiving these plays, rather than addressing them. I’m ready; I’m on my toes. 

Ludwig & Mae (Embedded, Apocalypse, and Resurrection) by Louis Patrick Leroux, translated by Shelley Tepperman and Ellen Warkentin, directed by Logan Williams. Title 66 Productions at les Ateliers Jean-Brillant, 661 rue Rose-de-Lima (métro Lionel-Groulx). March 27 to April 7. For tickets and information on performances:

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