It’s not often you get to experience a play in both of Canada’s official languages. It’s even rarer to get that opportunity twice in two years, but that’s the gift Northern Light Theatre and L’Unithéâtre are giving to audiences with their co-production of Gratien Gélinas’ La Passion de Narcisse Mondoux/ The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux. La Passion de Narcisse Mondoux plays at La Cité Francophone March 29 – April 9 with performances in both English and French.
After enjoying co-presenting 2014’s Mercy of a Storm/ À la Merci d’Une Tempête, Trevor Schmidt, Northern Light Theatre’s Artistic Director approached Brian Dooley, L’Unithéâtre’s Artistic Director, about collaborating again – this time on a script originally written in French with an English translation. Trevor says, “We were looking for something for the two companies to do together. We have different mandates but a similar aesthetic. I’d looked at the play a while ago. It’s a good size and I thought it was quite whimsical and sweet.”
When Trevor approached Brian with the script for La Passion de Narcisse Mondoux, he found out that Brian had a personal history with the play dating back to its English première where he worked as the English coach. Brian says his personal connection to La Passion de Narcisse Mondoux runs deep. “[Gratien Gélinas is] a legend in Quebec. He’s someone I grew up with as a kid and my mother grew up with him in the ’30s. So when Trevor approached me I went, “What? You want to do La Passion de Narcisse Mondoux?’ At first, I was taken aback and thought that was interesting. I didn’t know it would be interesting to Trevor, that he would be remotely interested in that kind of material, but then he explained to me how he wanted to approach it and I thought it would all make sense. I could see us preserving certainly the integrity of what Gratien Gélinas intended and at the same time blowing the dust off it, so to speak.”
La Passion de Narcisse Mondoux is set in Quebec in the 1980s and centres around the macho Narcisse (played by Brian Dooley), who has had a longtime crush on Laurencienne Robichaud (played by Monon Beaudoin) and decides to start wooing her at her husband’s funeral. Narcisse soon learns that Laurencienne has career ambitions that don’t align with how he sees women and has to adjust his views as he pursues her love. Trevor, who directs the show, describes it as being, “very much about women’s liberation and feminism and particularly about women engaging in politics in the mid-80s. And a man who has notions of the old school machismo of being challenged… You find out quite early in the play Laurencienne is very fueled by politics. She’s engaged and active politically but, of course, she’s a woman and up until this point in time there haven’t been a whole lot of women in politics in Canada. She’s quite impressed by the women who are making headway and she wants to join their ranks.”
One of the drivers of this piece’s humour is Brian’s character, Narcisse. Brian describes some of his characters lines as, “outrageous, horrifically politically incorrect,” that will still resonate with the audience, despite the play taking place in the 1980s. “Essentially the things that were at stake in the 80s, whether it’s feminism, politics, or a kind of awkward and intransigent maleness – a kind of misplaced prejudice that men would have had in the 80s – are still around today. It’s generational perhaps, but it’s still around. For people of a certain generation, while they recognize all the flaws and foibles of this particular character, they will also be reminded that not only did it happen then, those struggles still go on in many ways.”
For those who are fans of 70s sitcoms, Trevor and Brian describe it as “Archie Bunker meets Maude” and say that they’ve carried that idea of a sitcom through the aesthetics of the show. Trevor explains, “We’ve talked about it a little bit like being a sitcom. We’ve talked about sound effects and reactions to the camera… There’s an acknowledgment of the audience being there on behalf of Narcisse, but not on behalf of Laurencienne. Narcisse has a personal connection to the audience that’s in the theatre.” Brian adds, “I flirt deeply with the audience.”
As with Northern Light Theatre and L’Unithéâtre’s previous collaboration, La Passion de Narcisse Mondoux/ The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux will be presented in English and French. However, the team invites audiences to see the production in both languages to note the ways language subtly influences the performance. For example, one element of the script that is key to the show is to ensure the class distinction between Narcisse and Laurencienne that’s so apparent in the French version of the production (due to the accents and choice of words) comes across in the English translation. In a bilingual country like ours, this opportunity to experience the French and English translation of a well-known Quebecois playwright in both official languages is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.
La Passion de Narcisse Mondoux/ The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux plays at La Cité Francophone March 29 – April 9 with performances in both English and French. Tickets are $20 – $25 through either Northern Light Theatre or L’Unithéâtre.
Performances in English: March 29 and 31, April 3, 6, 8 (early show and the late night booty call performance), and the April 9 evening show.
Performances in French (no English surtitles, as L’Unithéâtre typically has): March 30, April 1, 2 (matinée and evening show), 7, and the April 9 matinée.