Two new Alberta works: En anglais, sil vous plaît, and Fugly.

I only watched two shows yesterday, with a long beer-tent volunteer shift and some other Fringe hanging out in between.  I enjoyed the cooler weather.  Not so much this morning’s rain, but it’s not supposed to last.

En Anglais, s’il vous plaît, at the Strathcona Library, is a new play written by local actor Vincent Forcier, starring Kristi Hansen, Steve Jodoin, and Ian Leung.  It’s performed partly in French and partly in English, with all the French being translated in supertitles projected above the stage.  I like to think that I didn’t need the supertitles at all, but I can reassure you that they were easy to see without being distracted from the story. 

Because I haven’t lived in Alberta very long, and because my study of French and exposure to francophone community was mostly in Ontario and eastern Canada, I didn’t know much at all about the history and politics of francophone Alberta.  I found this play fascinating.  It interwove the familiar story of a typical young Alberta couple, Amour (Steve Jodoin), raised by francophone parents and attending French schools, and Douce (Kristi Hansen), of Ukrainian background and grown up in an English milieu, with the political narrative of Leo Paquette, the first Alberta MLA to speak in the legislature in French.  Ian Leung played Leo Paquette and also played Amour’s father.  As the narrator addressing the audience at the start, he speaks clearly and slowly in French and in code-switched French and English, engaging the cautious audience and reassuring us that we’d be able to follow.  As M. Paquette, his formal speeches in the legislature are equally clear.  And when he shifts to playing Amour’s father, resentful of his Anglophone daughter-in-law, his speech is much faster and more idiomatic.  I had to work to understand him and it was easy to put myself in Douce’s place, feeling unwelcome and unappreciated for the effort I’d been making.

There were clear parallels between M. Paquette’s political initiatives and his determination not to apologize for exercising his rights in order not to set a precedent diminishing those rights, and Amour’s ongoing efforts at home to get his wife to speak enough French to expose their future child to the language.  “I’m pissed off that it’s easier for you!”, she exclaims, illustrating some common misconceptions of language-majority privilege.  I was surprised that the political story took place as recently as 1986.  One of my favourite parts of the play was the scene where Leo Paquette is in the legislature, addressing the Speaker of the House (played by Kristi Hansen) and Steve Jodoin is playing all the other MLAs addressing the house, each with his or her own facial expressions, accents, and voices.

At the end of the night, I went to C103 to see Fugly.   Their show programs are attached to wooden sticks so that you can use them as fans more easily, which is clever in warm weather in C103.  Returning the fan/program meant that I can’t tell you for sure who was playing which character, but the Fringe program has Joleen Ceraldi, Heather Falk, and Helen Knight, in a company from Calgary called The Janes.  The elliptical storytelling in a fantasy setting seemed to be conveying the story of a woman who is searching for her mind, while caught up in various encounters with body image and conformist expectations.  The sharp lines and clear colours of the design helped to build the not-quite-real world full of mirrors.  The rhymed couplets at the start of the performance cued me immediately that this was going to be some kind of allegory or poetic impression rather than a more natural dialogue in which I should understand everything immediately.  This made me more comfortable with just watching.

Tonight is Sonder‘s turn for a late-night performance (11:30 pm at King Edward School).   The Edmonton Journal gave us 3.5 stars, with “Kudos to the high-energy cast who deal with some pretty intense material, using mime, movement and minimal props”.  We have two more shows after tonight: Thursday at 4 pm and Saturday at 6:45pm.

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