Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

Photo: Sylvain Sabatie

If everyone feels like an outsider, then is anyone actually an outsider? Les Passants – an engagingly adventurous, vignette-based co-production by GCTC and le Théâtre la Catapulte – doesn’t address that question directly, but in presenting its cavalcade of funny, poignant and vulnerable characters, people whose inner lives are constantly at odds with the outer world, it certainly suggests we are all together in this messy, often unhappy business of modern-day alienation.

Wobbly at the outset, the production soon enough gains traction as playwright Luc Moquin’s script unrolls in French with English surtitles. Four actors – Mélanie Beauchamp, Benjamin Gaillard, Andrée Rainville and Yves Turbide – play multiple characters, with Keith Thomas’s soundscape often becoming a character itself. That soundscape can be intensely disquieting, becoming at times a kind of howling white noise that underscores Moquin’s concern with the clamour of distraction that smothers our ability to think, judge and communicate about anything outside the ephemeral.

Caught up in this universe of fevered inconsequentiality, Moquin’s characters ricochet about, trying to connect with each other, with themselves, with anything that would provide a quiet, safe harbour. They fail to do so, of course, sometimes in exceedingly funny fashion. Such is the case when a couple, having attended some kind of flaky get-in-touch-with-yourself-and-each-other session, performs an interpretative dance meant to express the emotions they’ve long kept tamped down. It’s an absurd exercise in self-absorption, a cure that’s worse than the illness, but also the kind of lazy solution to a deep existential calamity that’s so appealing precisely because it entails little real effort or risk.

At other times in the show, a man, near catatonic with the meaningless of his life, asks, “Where was I going again?” and later says, “There’s time” a bit like J. Alfred Prufrock, that early twentieth century model of a hollow man, asserting that there will be time to wonder, “’Do I dare?’”

Elsewhere, a couple of Philistines rant on – well, one does, the other being mostly a grunter – about the glories of classical piano music.  In another scene, someone hears a knock at the door but finds no one there. Meanwhile, black-hooded Phlegyas, the ferryman on the River Styx in Dante’s Inferno, drifts in and out of vignettes, a mute reminder of the mortality awaiting us at the termination of the road.

Jean Stéphane Roy directs all this with spirit and care, giving punch to the slapstick and cartoon-like sequences, evoking our sympathy for the characters in other, sadder scenes. Brian Smith’s set of translucent, swinging panels is practical in its anonymity – these are, after all, very different characters with very different stories despite their common plight – and reinforces the idea that modern life can be more a matter of shadow than substance.

But is 21st century life really so disrupted, so aimless? I don’t think so – and that’s where Les Passants, by focusing so singularly on its theme, sometimes goes astray – but you may think the times are indeed exceedingly grim. One way or the other, Moquin does hold out a bouquet of hope at the very end.


Les Passants

By Luc Moquin

A Great Canadian Theatre Company- le Théâtre la Catapulte co-production

Directed by  Jean Stéphane Roy

Surtitle translation by Lisa L’Heureux

Cast: Mélanie Beauchamp, Benjamin Gaillard, Andrée Rainville, Yves Turbide

Set Designer: Brian Smith
Sound Designer Keith Thomas

Lighting Designer: Chantal Labonté

Costume Designer: Vanessa Imeson

Apprentice Costume Designer Even Gilchrist

Stage Manager Tina Goralski

Assistant Stage Manager: Mathieu Roy

At GCTC Feb. 23-March 12.