Photo: Permission of the Théâtre La Catapulte
Marcel Dubé is one of those rare playwrights who left his mark on Québécois theatre in the 1950s, 60’s and 70’s because of his tough neo naturalistic vision of the stage that was greatly influenced by American playwrights such as Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neil . He was no doubt best known for Un simple soldat (1958), Les beaux dimanches (1968) and Au retour des oies blanches (1969). Zone, written in 1956 was first translated into English is 1982. This version of Zone, directed by Jean Stéphane Roy who is also the current artistic director of Théâtre La Catapulte has made some very minor changes in the text and reorganized some scenes to correspond to his almost cinematographic vision of this production which is extremely powerful and beautifully orchestrated from all perspectives.
The setting is one of urban poverty and misery that have lead to the bonding of a small group of young people attracted to their chief “Tarzan”. Tarzan organizes them into his family of five well-heeled cigarette smugglers driven to selling their wares because of their situation: unhappiness at home and a sense of being excluded from society. Neither bandits, nor criminals, nor killers, they live by their own code of honour imposed by Tarzan who has “called” them to him and they are fiercely loyal and respectful of this man. They all hold regular jobs during the day, they normally don’t carry weapons and they meet in a tangle of metal beams, and building ruins, their headquarters, a metal-like frame that transforms itself into various spaces superbly lit by Guillaume Houët .
A border guard has been shot and the police inspector, played with “gentle toughness” by Richard J. Léger, brings them all in for interrogation to break their code of silence and find out what happened that night on the American border. The play shows the strength of the ties among the “gang” , the budding relationship between Tarzan and Ciboulette, the only girl in the group, the betrayal of one “Passe-Partout” and especially the manner in which the inspector interrogates the young people as he slowly breaks them all down to get the truth.
Those scenes where the four young people are interrogated together, (Roy has telescoped the four encounters into one single scene which becomes the strongest moment in the play) is quite a remarkable feat of staging as the questions are fired at the group in rapid succession and the answers spurt back in a sort of fractured order that produces enormous tension and even rage on the part of those young people. Each of the four members of the group reveals his own particular personality under the stress of the Inspectors words which take on a different tone as he confronts each character individually. Even in this dysfunctional chorus, the individual temperaments are revealed showing among other things, that Roy is an effective director of actors who has channelled their interpretations in many different ways to produce perfectly lifelike figures on stage.
The almost childish Moineau (Dave Jennis) with the harmonica clinging to his mouth is so disturbed he can’t help but weep his heart out. Pass-Partout, (Maxine Lavoie) his great physical presence, his flashy old fur coat, all help personify a body possessed by a raging ambition to replace the leader Tarzan. There is little Ciboulette (Frédérique Thérien), the tough little girl who handles herself very well among all those men but who is looking for love and not daring to declare how she feels about Tarzan; Ti-Noir (Jean-Simon Traverse) the future executive , well dressed with meticulous personal habits is always wiping dirt off his shoulders , And then there is their ‘captain’, Tarzan played by Nicolas Desfossés . He incarnates the furious revolt against an unjust society. His revolt is pure, ready to go to the ultimate sacrifice for the good of them all, an existentialist Jesus Christ who is almost a romantic. Desfossés is a most exciting actor whose enormous energy and passion come pouring through the highlights of his role, whether he is arguing with the police inspector, whipping Passe-Partout for carrying a gun, or declaring his love for Ciboulette, all the while knowing he must soon die.
This intensely exciting drama of the back streets of the big city is not at all limited to one particular place or moment in time. It can easily be adapted to contemporary urban life in any contemporary city where the city divides, excludes, crushes, creates barriers and destroys those who cannot survive within it.
Here it’s the young people who are the victims and Jean-Stéphane Roy has given us a most moving and beautiful interpretation of a drama, invaded by brief hallucinations , by several dreamlike sequences and menacing shadows that deform the stage and send us right into the midst of a Film Noir . This is a talented director whose work with the visual aspects of the stage as well as with actors, is exceptionally good.
Zone will be playing at the Nouvelle Scène. For information call 613-241-27 27. Performances with English surtitles on Thursdays
Directed by Jean Stéphane Roy
Set design : Dominic Manca
Lighting : Guillaume Houet
Costumes: Nina Okens
Soundscape: jean-Michel Ouimet
Tarzan: Nicolas Desfossés
Passee-partout : Maxime Lavoie
Ciboulette : Frédérique Thérien
Moineau : Dave Jenniss
Le chef : Richard J. Léger
Ti-Noir Jean -Simon Traversy
Coproduced by Théâtre Catapulte and Théâtre français de Toronto
Based on the first performance given March 1, 2012. at La Nouvelle Scène.