Home is where Hearts is
WELL-TRAVELLED ACTOR Reda Guerinik finds a tight-knit community in the second instalment of Robert Lepage’s Playing Cards
Ask actor Reda Guerinik where home is, and he pauses. To him, this is a difficult question. Often, it’s wherever he and his family sleep after the suitcases land. At the moment, it’s their newly renovated apartment in Montreal. “Home is any place,” he replied, after due consideration.
Guerinik is rehearsing for the North American première of Robert Lepage’s Jeux de cartes, Coeur (Playing Cards, Hearts) at Tohu, having recently returned to Montreal following a fiveyear sojourn in Asia. There, he worked first for Cirque du Soleil’s Zed, directed by François Girard, in Japan, then in Franco Dragone’s The House of Dancing Water in Macau, China.
Hearts premièred in Essen, Germany last fall, and will soon be on its way to Amsterdam and Copenhagen.
In Hearts, the second part of Lepage’s planned fourplay epic, Guerinik portrays Chaffik, a Quebec City cab driver who thinks he’s Moroccan but turns out to be Algerian — an identity crisis very close to the actor’s own. Born in Morocco to Algerian parents, Guerinik arrived in Quebec at the age of 5.
At 39, he’s a father of two, with a 1-year-old son born in Hong Kong and a 6-year-old daughter born in Quebec. His partner was born in Colombia, adopted by Quebec parents. “We each have our own continent in our family,” he said.
Any parallels between Guerinik and Chaffik are not coincidental: He is listed, along with the six other actors and Lepage, as a cocreator of the script. Like the others, he receives royalties for this, as well as an actor’s salary.
Guerinik, who graduated from theatre school (at Collège Lionel-Groulx in SteThérèse) in 1998, has had an adventurous artistic life. His first job was performing in Cirque du Soleil’s water show, O, in Las Vegas. Besides chalking up credits with Cirque du Soleil, Franco Dragone Entertainment Group and now Lepage’s Ex Machina, he has worked with Wajdi Mouawad, in the original theatrical version of Incendies. Along the way, he has appeared in such films as The Terrorist Next Door, and a few television shows, like Les Bougon.
What’s special about working with Lepage? “It’s the fact that everyone is included in the creation at all levels,” Guerinik replied. “You not only act, but you also write; you also direct, in a sense, because you influence him in certain decisions.”
This process has made Guerinik more aware of music, lighting effects and the other work of the technical crew. “In this play, the technicians are as important as the actors,” he said. “It’s a very good feeling of the collective experience in the theatre.”
Working underneath the circular stage for the duration of the show (there are no exits into the wings), the 12 technicians, like the actors, must be constantly on the alert. “It really feels like a space shuttle down there,” Guerinik said. “Everything works like a clock.”
The seven actors of Hearts did not meet with the six actors of Spades when working with Lepage. Each production is independent. “That way, it’s not like you have to see Spades to understand Hearts, or see Hearts in order to understand Spades.”
What they have incommon, besides the playing-cards theme, is the use of the circular stage — which has to be configured differently, above and below, for each show.
While Spades contained a strong dose of the military, “Hearts is about beliefs, magic and love,” Guerinik said. There’s a love story between Chaffik and his Australian/Québécoise girlfriend, Judith (Catherine Hughes).
One inspiration shared by Spades and Hearts, Guerinik said, is the 1966 war film The Battle of Algiers, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. The link to Hearts is obvious, as Chaffik’s Algerian grandfather was an engineer who worked with explosives during the Algerian War (1954-62).
In Spades, the connection has to do with scenes involving international soldiers be- ing trained for Iraq at a military base near Las Vegas.
During the Iraq War, “one of the most popular films at the Pentagon was The Battle of Algiers,” Guerinik said. “It was watched by high levels of the military.” The documentary-style film was considered instructive for counterterrorism purposes.
When it’s not set in Quebec City, Hearts travels to 19thcentury France and Algeria, following magician JeanEugène Robert-Houdin, from whom American magician Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz) derived his name. Robert-Houdin was sent to Algeria to dazzle the populace, leaving the impression that the French empire of Napoleon III was omnipotent.
French illusionist and film pioneer Georges Méliès also figures in the Hearts mix, as he purchased Robert-Houdin’s theatre in Paris.
The way Lepage connects one element to another in his works often seems to rely on a roll of the dice. But according to Guerinik, the guru director reassures his cast, telling them: “We’re like Christopher Columbus. We know that there’s a continent somewhere. We know that the story exists somewhere. We’re going to sail this way and find the story.”
Somehow, time after time, they do, carrying us into brave new worlds of performance art.
Jeux de cartes, Coeur (Playing Cards, Hearts) runs Thursday to Feb. 9 at Tohu, 2345 Jarry St. E. Tickets cost $25 to $65. Call 514-3768648 or visit tohu.ca.