By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
In the intricate dark comedy that launches the L’UniThéâtre season Friday, a couple of 60-something-plus strangers from elsewhere, sporting symmetrically opposed damages, meet — in a nursing home in Fort McMurray, the unofficial Canadian home of improbable encounters.
They’re both haunted by their younger selves. Jessy (André Roy), an erstwhile Acadian, is a musician who turned oil field worker a couple of decades ago, and paid the price in physical mobility. Simone (Crystal Plamondon) is a Quebec actress suffering from the mind- and memory-erosion of Alzheimer’s.
In Simone et le whole shebang, by the young up-and-coming Quebec actor-turned-playwright Eugénie Beaudry, they are joined onstage by two 35-year-olds — the young-man version of Jessy (Gaetan Benoit) and Simone’s daughter (Nicole St. Martin), a Quebecer working in the oil patch.
And speaking as we are of the whole shebang, consider the director. The perfectly bilingual actor/ dancer/ improviser Vince Forcier, who recently directed some 30 of the 50-hours of the annual Die-Nasty Soap-A-Thon — and is slated to direct Die-Nasty’s upcoming vaudeville season — makes his professional directing debut with this asymmetrical quartet. He calls it “a three-person play with one ghost.”
The whole shebang includes the nuances and pluralities of the Canadian francophonie, Forcier has found. It’s something he knows about first-hand. The Montreal-born theatre artist who’s been here “as long as I have memory” learned to speak French from his Québec parents. He calls himself a franco-albertain, though his accent eludes easy categorization. “In Quebec they think I’m from somewhere else, from Alberta. In Alberta people think I’m from Quebec. “The class structure of French,” as Forcier puts it, is part of Simone et le whole shebang. The two versions of Jessy are Acadian, but the older man’s accent has been smoothed out by decades of living in Fort McMurray. Simone’s daughter is a transplanted Québecoise, of more recent vintage, but that accent is getting subtly altered by Alberta.
The title is revealing. “There’s a lot of franglais in the play,” says Forcier of the characters. “They throw English words into French sentences. And I do it too…. If I’m saying a sentence in French but think of the English word first, I just throw it in, then continue in French.” Most of the performances, incidentally, include English surtitles.
Forcier has a long history of directing indie productions. For a time he was a founding partner in Surreal SoReal Theatre — the resident director role in a collective that has since moved on to Québec. And now, his directing career takes a step forward with a four-person production that includes two actors “who are celebrities within the French community,” as he says, “both playing older than themselves.”
The 35-year-olds “are at the age where they’re worried about turning 40…. What should I have accomplished by this age? Is this age my last chance to change my life? Am I doing what I want to be doing? And am I doing enough of it? What’s my next chapter?” These are questions, that resonate with him, too. Forcier grins and shrugs. “It’s close to my own situation.”
“In this whole process, I’m realizing with the older characters that you don’t stop asking those questions.” For him, the answer that threads its way through the thicket of questions is … directing.
The old man is exhorted by his younger self to “do something with your life. You’re not done with it. Don’t let all the hard work I’ve put into your body go to waste.” as Forcier describes. “He’s haunted, by himself.” Simone “feels betrayed” by the daughter who’s re-located her to Fort McMurray. But then, “she can’t stay mad very long at a daughter she keeps forgetting exists.”
If the playwright comes to the see the show, and she might, it will be her first time in Alberta, says Forcier. “She wrote a play set in Fort McMurray and she has never been there, but gets a lot of aspects of it, of Alberta, right.” The play has attracted attention (and award-nominations) in Quebec. “It’s interesting to produce it in Alberta where it actually takes place.…”
Forcier himself was in Fort McMurray recently when Grindstone Comedy Theatre took their hit show The 11 O’Clock Number, a wholly improvised musical, there for a late-night performance. “Hey, good research!”
“I think we’ve done a good job of focussing on the heart of the play, keeping the story and the people alive, not caricatures,” says Forcier of Simone et le whole shebang. “It talks about intense, dark things … in a way that makes you laugh.”
Simone et le whole shebang
Written by: Eugenie Beaudry
Directed by: Vincent Forcier
Starring: André Roy, Crystal Plamondon, Gaetan Benoit, Nicole St. Martin
Where: La Cité francophone, 8627 91 Street
Running: Friday through Oct. 26. In French, most performances with English subtitles