SALT LAKE CITY — How do you define a people? How do you show their daily struggles as well as their triumphs and still invoke the feeling of a whole culture? For the people of Quebec, the answer is Michel Tremblay. Tremblay is the number one name to know in French Canadian literature because he changed the entire landscape of the art with his works. Before his time, plays were done in English, with a British dialect and British mannerisms. Simply put, there was no cultural identity in Quebec. What made Tremblay’s work so daring and impacting was his desire to portray what others feared would be mundane and everyday. He wrote in French Canadian slang, he wrote about the influence of the Catholic Church on their society and essentially toppled the barriers that before then people recognized but never talked about; and it all started with his first play produced, Les Belles Soeurs.
Les Belles Soeurs is essentially a drama about Germaine Lauzon, a woman who has won a million trading stamps in a lottery and is now hosting a party with her friends to glue them into booklets. While this doesn’t sound like the most riveting of storylines, the brilliance of this story lies in the relationships revealed and developed during this party. Germaine, Rose, and Gabrielle are three sisters who are loyal to their family ties, but hate each other all the same. They zealously abhor their “fallen” sister Pierette, who comes to the party unannounced. Ironically, she is the most charitable character of the bunch who doesn’t care about form or rules when it comes to helping those in need. Indeed, Pierette and Germaine’s forward thinking daughter Linda seem to be the base of the new culture Tremblay was trying to invoke. All of these women are living in a world where their religious fervor has become a petty coldness that has in fact distanced them from each other and the faith they hold dear.
So how did this cast of 20-somethings in modern day Utah fare with such a complex script? All in all, I thought they did excellently with the content of the roles, but the life of the roles still seemed to elude some of the actresses. Granted, it is difficult to have such young people play such older women, but while some fared very well under the task, others fell a little flat. For example, Jessa Brocklebank and Haeleigh Royall played best friends Rheauna Bibeau and Angeline Sauve and while they understood the feelings of the characters, the only thing that gave me a clue to their age was the fact that Royall’s hair was sprayed grey. There was no age or sense of place with these characters, and that was confusing to watch, especially because the play has a couple different generations and about 14 women on stage at the same time. While part of this is due to the lack of a makeup designer, the actors are responsible for their physicality as well. Germaine, played by Jordan Novotny, also fell into this trap a little since the production team decided to give her belly padding to make her appear heavier. She did a few things to show that she was heavier, but it wasn’t really convincing enough for me. I still saw a skinny girl with some padding on her tummy and hips.
There were some performances that were outstanding with this show. Eva TerraNova was incredible as Pierette. She rarely raised her voice in a place that didn’t feel appropriate, and had an electric interior energy that seemed to influence everyone. The same could be said for Chelsie Cravens portrayal as Rose. She was feisty, prejudiced, and funny in a way that made me always find myself drawn to her at the right moments. She didn’t ever play her character too forcefully when others where in the spotlight, but when she was the focus, she really grabbed everyone by the shirts. I also thought her overall story was the most interesting. She was brash and bossy, but she let the audience see the hurt underneath that façade just enough so we didn’t tire of it. I think, however, my favorite performance of the night was Ana Lemke’s portrayal as Des-Neiges Verrette. She was mousy, endearing, and never overly emotional. I felt that of all the actors, Lemke evoked the most naturalness on stage. Her story of her relationship with a traveling was beautiful and poignant.
Overall I really did enjoy this production. It made me more than a little homesick for Quebec, a place I consider my second home. While the makeup was extremely weak, and some of the acting a little amateur, the incredible script and overall strong performances made this show one worth seeing. Even for people who have never been to Quebec, I feel like this story communicates relationships that are universal and important in any society. So merci ladies, merci beaucoup.