Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

Matt Smith and ManonMarcel Pursued by the Hounds Smith, Dumas, Lefebvre  Dumas in Marcel poursuivi par les chiens.

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.

Cast

Rose-Jessica lafrance

Violette  – Karen Charbonneau

Mauve-               Jodi Morden

Florence – Annie Lefebvre

Marcel  – Matt Smith

Thérèse -  Manon Dumas