Gaby Déziel-Hupé,’s ground breaking play, Les Outardes (The Wild Geese) has come back to Hull/Gatineau were it was first produced in 1969. Gilles Provost, former director the Le Théâtre de l’Ile (that charming little theatre and former water works perched on an island in the middle of Brewers Creek), has remounted a community production of the play which was the first production of the theatre when it opened in 1976. Julie Giroux’s attractive but simple farm house with the decorations and the way it captures the rural feel by sending us off to different parts of the house creating a sense of space that engages the imagination.
The result is an experience that remains as fresh and endearing as it was when it first took place and Provost’s meticulous staging shows to what extent Déziel-Hupé’s play comes close to the neo naturalistic theatre of such established Quebec playwrights of the 1950’s and 1960’s as Marcel Dubé (his dysfunctional family in Au retour des oies blanches), or Gratien Gélinas (his war drama Ti-Coq).
There was something extremely touching when Père Théo, the Gratton family patriarch first clumps into the house at the end of a hard day’s work. He sinks his heavy set but still rather attractive frame into his chair and starts peeling off his work clothes – shirt, pants, socks. Right down to his underwear. His eldest daughter, Marie–Laure (played by a surprisingly Jasmine Delage who assumes perfectly her role as family peace keeper among all those men) comes running downstairs in her night clothes, greeting her father as a wife might. Nothing ambiguous here however. Marie-Laure was the mother for her young brother Aurèle since Père Théo was too busy working, keeping their land going, living through two wives and currently casting his twinkling eye on a third one. The pious and pushy Rosalba who is saving herself for marriage, won’t give in to Theo’s lascivious glances because she knows that he would much rather get her into bed before making any decisions.
Theo, wielding his patriarchal authority, is often given to fits of anger and his explosive but generous temperament keeps the emotions high in this family drama structured by the conflicts between father and his children. The grown up children are trying to fly with their own wings but papa’s insistence on traditional values often has them ready to “take the door”. Théo still hopes that they will all eventually come home to roost, like those flocks of wild geese that fly over the Ottawa/Hull/Gatineau area in their V formations, eventually coming back when the seasons change.
What leaves the most lasting impression, however, are the excellent performances that Provost has elicited from this cast, creating a sometimes amusing but always extremely endearing family drama that makes for excellent theatre. Avoiding any over blown sentimentality, avoiding as well the kind of caricatures we see on TV soap opera drama that often influences community theatre, the actors seem to be living a real experience on stage. The youngest brother, Aurèle ( Renaud Soublière) learning to become a man but caught between the authority of his brother and his sister’s fiancé Mario, creates a loveable, totally relaxed and completely believable portrait. Patrick Potvin as Robert, the eldest brother planning to raise kangaroos on the family land, much to Theo’s exasperation, shows us a mature older brother who assumes his role with a sense of confidence that is a pleasure to watch. However, his love interest with Colette from Gaspé (Renée Amyot) was one of the big weaknesses in the script. It appears to be a device that the playwright slipped in to create a completely unmotivated “happy end” . Added to that is the almost too calm, too sweet tempered Renée Amyot who did not quite find the essence of her character. One could attribute that to her lack of experience but she will no doubt soon find her way as she takes on more roles.
Mario, the Italian owner of a nearby restaurant, madly in love with Marie-Laure, struggles with an Italian accent which the author has written in the play and which actor Emmanuel Parent manages very well. His slicked back hair, his obvious mixture of romantic, not objectionable machismo and great lovesickness is very attractive and he pulls it off with great panache. The giggly and nosy Rosalba who has kept herself for marriage for 42 years appears to be the brunt of the author’s sense of critical humour. Manon Lafrenière treads a fine line between caricature and naturalism, but manages to keep our attention by not pushing her piousness overboard. She is obviously the author’s answer to certain religious debates that were going on in Quebec society at that time but that have lost their meaning nowadays.
That leaves us with the extraordinary presence of André St- Onge the dramatic centre of this little family of “wild geese”. St-Onge has become an actor of professional stature. With a most unbelievably rich bass voice that echoes throughout the theatre and could no doubt fill the National arts Centre, he is a rare presence in both the English and French theatre milieu. St-Onge is an artist well worth discovering
Les Outardes (The Wild Geese), this classic of franco-ontarian theatre continues at the Théâtre de l’ile until December 10, 2011. Call 819-243-8000 for tickets and information.
Les Outardes (The Wild Geese) au Théâtre de l’ile
By Gaby Déziel-Huppé
Directed by Gilles Provost
A community production of Le Théâtre de l’Ile
Set …………………..Julie Giroux
A production of the Théâtre de l’Ile
Papa Théo………….. André St-Onge
Marie-Laure ….. Jasmine Delage
Aurèle ………… Renaud Soublière
Mario ………… Emmanuel Parent
Rosalba…………………. Manon Lafrenière
Robert ………. Patrick Potvin
Colette…………………… Renée Amyot