A new artistic director and a new season at L’UniThéâtre

Billy (Les jours de hurlement), L’UniThéâtre. Photo by Dave DeGagné, db photographics.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

In the play that launches L’UniThéâtre’s 26th season tonight in a Nancy McAlear production, we meet a trio of characters who just can’t seem to help being pissed off — at daycare workers, at other people’s parenting techniques, at bureaucratic delays…. 

What attracted Jöelle Préfontaine, the company’s new artistic director, to Billy (Les jours de hurlement, in English “days of howling”), by the award-winning Quebec City playwright Fabien Cloutier, is the crafty complexity with which “three individual characters weave together…. Little bits of information, lots of tension!” 

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 “They’re so ridiculous! Surely they should get over themselves and just live their lives!” exclaims Préfontaine, who took over the artistic reins of Edmonton’s venerable, multi-limbed francophone company this season after the departure of Brian Dooley. “They love gossip. They love conflict. Little things become do-or-die. Why can’t they be happy minding their own business and being the best human beings they can?”

The structure of the dialogue is a challenge for the English surtitles that are a long-time L’UniThéâtre inclusivity initiative launched under the pre-Dooley artistic director Daniel Cournoyer. They’re so cunningly intricate and cross-cut that for the first time, they’re colour-coordinated to the characters.

“Every time I watch a rehearsal I bust a gut laughing,” says Préfontaine of a play with a (very) dark sense of humour and considerable heft. “And then you get the big gut-punch.” 

The perfectly bilingual, multi-talented actor/ singer/ dancer/ director/ playwright, who arrived here from the nearby francophone town of Légal to go to theatre school at the U of A, is in a position to appreciate complexity. For one thing, the U of A acting grad with a master’s degree in theatre practice and a specialty in “pluri-lingual theatre for young audiences,” is a playwright. She went back to her roots for her debut play Récolte, set in a small Légal-esque prairie town, where a brother and sister struggle with the residue of family tragedy.

As a francophone who had to re-learn her first language (through theatre) after a decade of disuse, Préfontaine appreciates the nuances of cultural diversity in an ever-expanding francophone community that includes Franco-Albertains like her, other francophones outside Quebec, as well as European and African arrivals. And she appreciates, too, the importance of anchoring shows, especially those for young audiences, in “physical language.”

Elise centre l’extinction totale, L’UniThéâtre’s production for the young crowd, slated for a tri-province tour this season, is like that. Prefontaine herself directs the new play by Paula Humby, best known to anglophone audiences as an actor (she’s in the cast of Teatro La Quindicina’s current production of Skirts On Fire). It touches on themes of friendship and environmental conservation. 

Préfontaine’s debut season includes Ma Irma (My Irma), a production from Saskatoon’s La Troupe du Jour of a quirky black comedy by Haley McGee (Nov. 21 to 24). It’s  translated by, and stars, Marie-Claire Marcotte as a strangely awkward young woman whose misadventures begin with a mission to unravel the mystery of her mother’s murder.

La Fille du Facteur by and starring the multi-disciplinary theatre artist Josée Thibeault (March 20 to 23 and 27 to 30), taps theatre, dance, slam poetry in its account of the storyteller’s art. “She paints beautiful images in words,” says Préfontaine, who will direct this solo show with “a big sense of Edmonton” to it. “It (conjures) so many things about being an artist in Edmonton.”

Billy (Les jours de hurlement), directed by Nancy McAlear and starring Carline Lemire, Giselle Lemire, and Vincent Forcier, runs at L’UniThéâtre (8627 91 St.) tonight and Saturday, and Oct. 17 to 20. Tickets: lunitheatre.ca.


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