Hello darkness, my old friend
my old friend MY EXPERIENCE OF FAMILIES IN GENERAL IS THAT ANY KIND OF CHANGE IN ROLE OR EXPRESSION, SUCH AS SOMEONE SAYING THEY’RE GAY, IS A REALLY CHALLENGING THING TO DO, BECAUSE FAMILIES WANT TO STAY THE SAME. THEY DON’T WANT SHIFTING ROLES. PEOPLE TA
Bonjour, là, Bonjour, a play by Michel Tremblay
erge has just returned to Canada from three months of self-discovery in Europe, and now he must visit his family. At age twentyfive, he is the youngest of five siblings, and the only boy. His mother is dead. His father, who lost his hearing in an accident when the kids were little, lives with Serge’s two squabbling aunts. In Bonjour, là, Bonjour ,a play by Michel Tremblay, all eight characters are on stage at the same time, with their visits overlapping. They are angry at Serge for leaving, angry at one another, and disappointed by life. Dialogue functions like movements in a piece of music. It’s confusing at first, until the individual parts cohere into duets, trios, quartets, and octets.
“The aunts and the father live together in one environment, and their conversations don’t always connect, but neither do most families’ conversations,” said Wendy Chapin, who directs Bonjour, là, Bonjour at the Adobe Rose Theatre. “It’s like a big holiday meal. These people are having a conversation over here, and these people over here have their own agenda, and these people aren’t listening because families don’t really listen.”
At the heart of the play is a secret that each family member already knows or should suspect, but has never acknowledged. The wretched aunts, played by Glenna Hill and Ann Roylance, get pleasure only out of haranguing their brother, Armand (Larry Glaister), and complaining about their lot in life. Armand drinks at the local bar and pontificates to his family in lengthy soliloquies, with no regard for what they are saying to him. Serge’s sisters are headed down the same path as their aunts, each with her own private misery. Each one’s outlook is brightened by Serge’s presence, but though they dote on him, they don’t seem to care about his happiness. Lucienne (Lynn Goodwin), the oldest, judges his love life while engaged in an affair with a man half her age. Denise (Kirste Plunket), who says her husband doesn’t love her anymore because she’s too fat, keeps reassuring Serge that she doesn’t plan to rape him. Monique (Sabina Dunn) wants to be saved by solace, which none of her sisters offer her, and Nicole (Alexandra Renzo) doesn’t know how to get anyone but Serge (Dylan Marshall) to listen to her.
“It’s a dark comedy,” Goodwin said. “Everyone’s point of view is so conflicted and so strong. Everybody is trying to grab Serge and put him a place that works for them, but they’re not aware of it.”
“My experience of families in general is that any kind of change in role or expression, such as someone saying they’re gay, is a really challenging thing to do, because families want to stay the same,” Chapin
said. She has taught theater for more than 30 years; her master’s degree is in art therapy, with a special focus on incest studies. “They don’t want shifting roles. People talk about wanting to change, but the actual act of change is really upsetting. To me, the play is about how families hold things in place.”
Bonjour, là, Bonjour was first performed in Québécois French by the Compagnie des Deux Chaises at the National Art Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, in 1974. Tremblay used his working-class background as source material. When he translated the play into English in the 1980s, he changed the names of a few of the characters because he’d originally named them after his real-life family members, and not all of them were pleased. Chapin first directed the play 30 years ago with undergraduate students, which made conveying the multigenerational aspects of the family dynamic difficult. For the Adobe Rose production, she was able to cast age-appropriate actors from twenty-five to seventy-five years old, which provides the authenticity necessary to make the family patterning resonate. “The way the aunts treat the father is the way the sisters treat the brother,” she said. The cast and the director have discussed the family psychology of
Bonjour, là, Bonjour at length, and though they didn’t want to talk directly about the secret upon which the plot hinges, they readily offered their interpretations of the characters’ psyches to Pasatiempo, as well as their thoughts about the play’s various themes and ideas.
“What becomes apparent is that despite Serge’s sisters’ attempts to keep him as they wish to see him, he’s actually finding his own feet,” Dunn said. “He’s different than he’s been with them; he’s not telling them what they want to hear.”
“I think this happens in families, and often with the youngest — there’s an objectification of that person instead of a recognition of who that person is as an individual,” Goodwin said. “The sisters are kind of categorized. Lucienne mothers him; Monique wants him to comfort her; Denise wants to play with him.”
“Families in general have a sense of ownership of one another,” Chapin said. “You owe this to me. You have debts to pay.”
“The play shows how women can get trapped in roles — as they certainly were when the play was written, and I think they still do,” Goodwin said. They’re told they’re imagining their own anxieties over caretaking responsibilities, and they see their lives going by while they do nothing but take care of others.
Dunn speculated that most people choose one of two paths when growing up, either the one set for them by their parents or the one that rebels against that path. “As you get older, you gradually start to realize that you were reacting to your family, not actually making your own path.” Despite their self-interested behavior toward their brother, she thinks the sisters are written with compassion. “Tremblay gives everyone a chance to say what needs to be said, whether or not they take it, before it’s too late.”
AS YOU GET OLDER, YOU GRADUALLY START TO REALIZE THAT YOU WERE REACTING TO YOUR FAMILY, NOT ACTUALLY MAKING YOUR OWN PATH. — ACTRESS SABRINA DUNN
Dylan Marshall and Alexandra Renzo in Bonjour, là, Bonjour;