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

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Jen­nifer Levin

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

photo Dó­nal McKenna

Dy­lan Mar­shall and Alexan­dra Renzo in Bon­jour, là, Bon­jour;

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