Tal­ent shines in dark play

The Glengarry News - - News - BY MAR­GARET CALDBICK News Staff

The rule of play for the­atre­go­ers at­tend­ing Café Chan­tant’s lat­est pro­duc­tion, Franco On­tar­ian play­wright Michel Ouel­lette’s de­mand­ing work, “La guerre au ven­tre,” is to sus­pend all pre­con­cep­tions about stu­dent high school plays.

On open­ing night, April 11, the au­di­ence be­gan lin­ing up in the foyer of Alexan­dria’s l’École sec­ondaire catholique Le Re­lais ex­pect­ing to take their seats in the school’s large au­di­to­rium.

In­stead, to their as­ton­ish­ment, the the­atre­go­ers were led down the hall­way and through a dark­ened back­stage door to stairs lead­ing up to an intimate per­for­mance area on the school’s trans­formed stage. The space was closed in by floor-to-ceil­ing black cur­tains and sur­rounded on two sides by tiered seat­ing for 120 au­di­ence mem­bers.

Forced out of its com­fort zone by “La guerre au ven­tre,” the au­di­ence wit­nesses the shat­tered life of Martin, now liv­ing in Al­berta, a Franco On­tar­ian dis­placed from his On­tario home­town two decades be­fore by the clos­ing of the lo­cal pulp and pa­per mill.

“La guerre au ven­tre” is a no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult play ex­plor­ing un­com­fort­able themes in­clud­ing iden­tity, fam­ily tragedy and the strug­gle for sur­vival of the French lan­guage and cul­ture in Canada.

The piece de­mands a tour de force from the lead ac­tor play­ing Martin.

The di­a­logue-dense and emo­tion­ally-charged role was a huge chal­lenge for 17-year-old ac­tor Sim­mon Tousig­nant.

Le Re­lais teacher Mathieu Glaude, Café Chan­tant’s risk-tak­ing di­rec­tor, at first had one of two other ac­tors in mind when he pro­posed the play to mem­bers of the troupe in June 2017. But when a change of schools and other com­mit­ments ruled out Mr. Glaude’s first choices, the lead role of Martin passed to Sim­mon Tousig­nant who agreed to trim his many ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties to de­vote him­self en­tirely to the dif­fi­cult role. Sim­mon tri­umphs as Martin and ab­so­lutely car­ries the play, his words and body con­vey­ing his char­ac­ter's full range of com­plex emo­tions and ideas.

Orig­i­nally writ­ten for two ac­tors, Martin and an ac­tress play­ing mul­ti­ple roles, Mr. Glaude in­stead cast his ac­tresses in the mul­ti­ple roles of Martin’s mother, his mother-in-law, his ex-wife and daugh­ters, and a First Na­tions woman.

Café Chan­tant is also about mu­sic and new to Ouel­lette’s play is a score pro­duced by teacher Lyne Bes­ner-Lau­zon and di­rec­tor Mathieu Glaude who also plays soar­ing elec­tric gui­tar as part of the play’s sound­track.

The mu­sic was con­ceived by the di­rec­tor and the lyrics were based on words from the play were writ­ten by Grade 12 per­former Danika Longtin who stands back lit on a plat­form be­hind and above the au­di­ence. Ms. Longtin is a tal­ented singer and com­poser with a full, rich voice.

At one point, the en­tire 11 cast mem­bers beat their chests al­lud­ing to na­tive drums while Ms. Longtin sings a lament sound­ing like a tra­di­tional First Na­tions cer­e­mo­nial song.

Cast mem­bers also in­clude Grade 12 stu­dents Myr­iam Ques­nel play­ing Brid­get, and Mylène Levert play­ing the mother Si­mone, and Nas­tassja Gen­dreau play­ing sev­eral roles in­clud­ing Teresa. They and the rest of the su­perb cast en­snare the au­di­ence in the com­pli­cated range of emo­tions in Ouel­lette’s haunt­ing play.

Spe­cial men­tion goes out to the sound pro­duc­tion and light­ing crew, Grade 12 stu­dents Si­mon Claude (sound ef­fects) and James Du­four (light­ing) who have been man­ning the Café Chan­tant con­trol boards since Grade 9 un­der the guid­ance of di­rec­tor Mathieu Glaude. This year Mr. Glaude was as­sisted by teacher Francis Charlebois in his first year with Café Chan­tant.

The con­vinc­ingly bleak and stark world on stage was cre­ated by teacher José-Line Rioux’s min­i­mal­ist set de­sign us­ing re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als to build the scant mo­bile scenery prop­er­ties, a free­wheel­ing sofa made from folded card­board boxes and two small slid­ing walls.

Last fall, Michel Ouel­lette, who won the 2011 Prix MichelTrem­blay for “La guerre au ven­tre”, ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion to come to Alexan­dria and meet with the cast and an­swer ques­tions about the play.

The fi­nal per­for­mance of “La guerre au ven­tre” takes place tomorrow (April 18), at 7:30 p.m. Tick­ets are avail­able at the door but last week’s pro­duc­tions were sold out so it’s rec­om­mended to call the school in ad­vance at 613525-3315.

Le Re­lais is lo­cated at 100 McNab St.


TOUR DE FORCE: The cast and crew of Café Chan­tant’s “La guerre au ven­tre.” Be­low: Sim­mon Tousig­nant and Nas­tassja Gen­dreau in one of her roles as Teresa.

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