The Carleton Tavern is the perfect venue for this intense little drama by Michel Tremblay, which opened this weekend in Ottawa’s west end theatre district! Marcel Pursued by the Hounds was first staged in French in 1992 and this translation by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco while not respecting the levels of popular vernacular that are so central to Tremblay,s plays, seems to give directors Lisa Zanyk and Donnie Laflamme, a lot of scope to play with language. This play i another one of his works that completes the geneology of all the characters who make up the extended family of Albertine, living on the Plateau in Montréal .
The Three fates and their Moman Florence (Annie Lefebvre) know what is coming. They are waiting for Marcel as they coo to the audience , and tell us how they always loved that young boy, son of Albertine, brother of Thérèse who will also soon be appearing after a long night of bar tending and drinking herself into oblivion. After that prologue, in rushes Marcel to the viscious barking of hounds who are nowhere to be seen. He dashes across the tavern dining room between the tables, panting, puffing, sweating, screaming, almost hysterical. . Something terrible has happened and the chorus of fates, in their black slinky attire set off the narrative which becomes the play. The chorus intervenes in those long monologues spun by the young Marcel and his drunken sister Thérèse, for whom life has become an unbearable nightmare. Marcel and Thérèse are characters in this play but they are more than anything , expert story tellers, weaving their tale of booze and drunkenness, drugs and murder , all scenes taken from their own sad lives .
From that point on the tragedy unfolds as Thérèse, (Manon Dumas) saunters in and tells us how she spent the night in the French Casino bar, while Marcel (Matt Smith) watches her sheepishly, biting his nails and casting his eyes around the room in fits of panic. Although Thérèse and Marcel are actually talking to each other , they deliver their monologues looking directly at the audience, creating a more ritualized performance that brings us back to the Greek roots of Tremblay’s work where the chorus plays a central role.
Relegated to the back of a long narrow wooden platform, the quartet of fates miked like bar room singers, provides an excellent backdrop for the drama. The “Mama fate” played by Annie Lefevbre has a particularly striking presence and the caressing voice of a mythical creature who appears and disappears to keep watch over her protégés.
Marcel who is slowly drowning in his own hallucinations appears first .The dogs terrify him. He knows they are after him because of what he saw… but are they really there? Matt Smith’s performance as Marcel is truly remarkable. In the first moments of the play we wonder if he isn’t overdoing it a bit. The loud almost uncontrolled yelling and high tension panic are perhaps almost too much for that long narrow badly miked tavern dining room. However during the second part of the evening, when Marcel describes his encounter with Maurice and the gang at the French Casino bar, his performance becomes much more nuanced. Panic and terror take hold of his body and ravage his face as he tells his tale of horror which he orchestrates in a much more nuanced way. Matt Smith was not only extremely moving but he captured a whole world of misery that eats through Tremblay,s creatures, avoiding any trace of caricature, any inkling of overacting that could have destroyed his performance
Manon Dumas as the tough, drunken sister was also excellent with her cat-like eyes and her slouchy, in your face stride. She was the night creature who slinks around places that smell of beer, seeking the comfort of other alcoholics and the warmth of the dark back rooms in those smelly taverns. We listen to her intently because her story is so captivating and so well told.
There was a moment of ambiguity near the end as the characters sung Le temp des cérises, a song which has a lot of resonance related to the WW2 for French speakers and for Tremblay also so it seems. However that is not the case for an English speaking audience. They might have substituted another song just to give us the sense that Marcel finally returned to his magic world where the four fates are waiting for him in his own cocoon of madness, the place where he ultimately feels the safest.
There is no question that the Tavern setting enhanced the intensity of this play and gave us all a feeling that we were participating in some real life event that hit us very realistically in the gut…even if the creatures on stage had come down from a mythical and very troubled world inside of Marcel’s mind. Lisa Zanyk’s and Don Laflamme’s staging found the correct balance for all these apparently conflicting forces and the result was a hard hitting, highly dramatic and excellent evening of theatre.
Marcel Pursued by the Hounds plays at the Carleton Tavern until Saturday, December 3.
Call 613-791-4471 for tickets and reservations.
Ottawa, Alvina Ruprecht 28 Novembre, 2011
Marcel, pursued by the Hounds
Chamber Theatre Hintonburg at the Carleton Tavern
by Michel Tremblay
Translated by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco
Directed by Donnie Laflamme et Lisa Zanyk.
Violette – Karen Charbonneau
Mauve- Jodi Morden
Florence – Annie Lefebvre
Marcel – Matt Smith
Thérèse - Manon Dumas