By Joe Szekeres
Produced by Graeme Powell and Directed by Carey Nicholson
The last few seasons at the Oshawa Little Theatre have been an eclectic collection of productions ranging from ‘The Miracle Worker’ and ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ to modern musicals such as ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. It has been a wise decision to produce this vast array of plays as local audiences, once again, can be immersed in these stories from by gone eras. Michel Tremblay’s ‘Les Belles Soeurs’ is one such work reflective of a specific time frame that Canadian audiences will remember and recall with mixed emotions.
According to The Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia, “ Les Belles Soeurs set off a storm of controversy when the play premiered in Montreal in 1965. La Belle Province was releasing itself from staging religious and morality plays and joining late in the Quiet Revolution. The use of the joual vernacular associated with Canadian French language AND the dare to portray normal, working class women doing working class things were raucous and somewhat vulgar techniques to see live. The play also went after men and did not present them, at times, in the most favorable light.” By today’s standards this impact is nothing special, but why should audiences see Tremblay’s most produced work? Go to the Oshawa Little Theatre and see this piece for the fine, dynamic and powerful ensemble work as this production, both on stage and behind the stage, represents what community theatre is all about.
Germaine (Carmel Warman) a Montreal housewife, has won a million Gold Star stamps and has invited all the women she knows to come over and help her stick them into the booklets. As they stick, the women discuss the men in their lives, the church, and their accomplishments in life whether it be a trip to Europe or simply surviving another day in a family that demands so much of their attention. Germaine does not realize until the play concludes that, while the women are talking, they are also stealing her Gold Star stamps.
For purposes of this commentary, it is difficult to mention each by name but, suffice it to say that director Carey Nicholson and these fifteen women have captured beautifully the bold, bitchy and saucy French Canadian woman of the 1960s who had to carry so many burdens on her shoulders as numerous husbands and boyfriends were either complete oafs or idiots. It was a pleasure to see the diverse array of talent on stage from those who have years of experience in local theatre and those who are just beginning.
The dramatic monologues, where some of the women step forward and break the fourth wall to allow us to enter their lives further, are carefully and effectively staged with a lone spotlight as the other women on stage remain in tableaux. Barb Clifford as Rose delivers a knock out monologue in the second act that is poignant, passionate, sad and infuriating as we learn how much her husband is a complete buffoon. Two choral passages (that would require a great deal of rehearsal time) involving the women’s love of Bingo and their world of watching television at the end of their day were so much fun to watch, to hear and to listen.
The set for this production, Germaine’s kitchen and living room, is reminiscent of the cold water flats of working class Montreal in the 1960s complete with the hideously mismatched furniture dolled up with doilies thrown askew over the back of the chairs. That kitchen needed a good clean up with a scuffed up refrigerator ice box and kitchen table and chairs that were nearly about to collapse. Nice touches on the set. Nice collection of costumes from the dowdy, frumpy and blousy to the colourful ‘go go dancer’ look.
The 60s evoked definitive changes in the history of Canada and, especially in Quebec, where ‘maitre chez nous’ was a sign that such changes were inevitable. As Ms. Nicholson states in her program notes, “Les Belles Soeurs is a search for female identity and what new identity will emerge in the aftermath.” Get yourselves to the Oshawa Little Theatre for an evening of provocative live entertainment.