A truly remarkable week of art and life was brilliantly capped off by Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects’ courageous production of Albertine in Five Times—a work that examines the heights and depths of human existence and interaction. It was proceeded by the heartening result of the U.S. election (“Yes we can” on a colossal scale), the wily generosity of Marilyn Walker (gifting $15 million to enhance/relocate Brock University’s School for Fine and Performing Arts—as an endowment that wisely preserves the capital yet attracts the cheque books of other interested parties), and the sad, if expected, death of a young man whose addiction to video games was punished rather than probed.
Playwright Michel Tremblay has never been one to avoid difficult issues in his living and his art. He has a worthy ally in director Kelly Daniel’s view of Albertine, who is simultaneously before us in a quintet of incarnations.
At 70: Jennifer Phipps centres the stage and the drama. Now in an odorous nursing home, the eldest ‘Bertine laments much of life and looks forward to its conclusion (“I can’t do anything”). Phipps brings her considerable skills to bear as one by one her past—largely perceived transgressions—is revealed and relived by her former selves.
As At 60, Donna Belleville is a convincing recluse: craving the pharmaceutical comfort of her pills, gowned in a housecoat and reluctant to leave her bed. This self-imposed isolation is fuelled with loathing and contempt: “Who gives a shit about the family?” she raves, drawing nervous laughter and not a little envy from the captivated audience. Only a brush with pre-medicated death and subsequent rebirth give her the impetus to move to a retirement home and engage with the constant companions of memories that take on a life of their own.
Making the world’s best BLTs and swigging Coke in her diner is At 50. Barbara Worthy digs into the denial phase with just the right tone of contrived happiness that many may mistake for genuine contentment. Due in large part to Matt Flawn’s redo of the space (the open, rectangular stage now—like football stadiums of yesteryear—has “north and south” stands) the five staging areas are readily visible and accomplish the challenging task of letting the ensemble command their solos or wondrously combine for the few moments of interaction.
At 50, having withdrawn from a life of familial servitude, now appears to revel serving strangers yet remains distinctly detached from her nearby alter egos.
At 40 seethes with internal anger and chain smokes on the porch. Victoria Williams delivers an unforgettable primal scream while recreating the scary moment of nearly killing her daughter who sought comfort in much older men and booze since the age of 11. With this ugly confession, Tremblay alternates between horrific and poignant scenes drawing revulsion, fear and pity from the crowd just as his multi-dimensional character struggles to make sense of her actions. Truly inspired (both the creation and the troupe’s realization) is the Greek chorus, time-lapse-by-decade reaction to “... that’s why I beat her.”
As the youngest, At 30 (Jacelyn Holmes) had some chances at happiness but after her husband died on the battlefield the single mom began the solitary journey of raising two children without being able to communicate with either. Weaving this dissolute fabric together is sister Madeleine. Monica Dufault is especially fine with the sudden realization that a long illness brings her on scene as a ghost to the elder representations of her sibling. She has had a wonderful life, with a doting, salesman husband who always brought back treats and affection. Dufault exudes self-affirming naïveté even as the possibility that her Alex may have shared his private wares with her troubled sister.
At special moments during the production, Heather Thomas’ solo, golden soprano brings all of the women together for a few measures only to slip back into their decades’ divide. This deft touch is one of many from Daniels. Since there's no place to hide, it’s a real challenge for the women to decide just how much business to add as their counterparts command attention. With slight gestures and knowing looks—both at and away—the play takes on the feel of fine chamber music, where everyone has a different part (and many rests), yet all combine into a magnificent whole.
Not the least of which occurs in the final despairing moments (“Old age is not worth it”). The building gloom is magically balanced by an up-reaching grasp at hope and a final unison breath as the desperate layers of Albertine meld together. JWR