In the same season as Eugene O’Neill’s bewitching tale of hopeless love and last fall’s gripping production by Lyndesfarne Theatre of the same play (cross-references below), it’s a marvel of programming coincidence that both theatrical masterpieces are so abundantly available in Niagara.
Michel Tremblay’s through-composed script (in a fresh translation by Linda Gaboriau) unfolds virtually seamlessly, due in large part to the collective skill of the six women who hold the sparsely set stage and our imaginations throughout. Curiously, disappointingly, Marc Desormeaux’s original music failed to play as advertised (“... inspired by this idea of playing on such a dissonant fiddle,” he writes in his program note). Too consonant by half (but nonetheless beautifully executed), much more aural pain and insecurity is required to reflect the dissolute lives before us.
As good as all of the actors are, Wendy Thatcher’s Albertine at 60 is the most consistently rendered—especially her drug-addled rants and interjections—performance of the troupe. Tellingly, her institutional robe is drawn tightly enough about the neck that—unlike her alter egos—no crucifix can be seen. With her grizzled hair and clutched, pill-washing-down glass, she’s the epitome of Tremblay’s “call for help.”
As the last of the line, it falls to Albertine at 70 to confirm or deny the various versions of the past and try to find some hope for what remains of the future. Patricia Hamilton plays the complex part with a fine dynamic range and varied delivery. Linking the eldest to the youngest (Albertine at 30—Marla McLean) with a pair of rocking chairs is both a subtle and metaphorical touch: neither woman is really ever at rest. McLean’s recounting of her family life is riveting.
The other phases of addiction come from Albertine at 40 (Jenny L. Wright) and Albertine at 50 (Mary Haney). The former smokes incessantly as the nightmare of child-rearing comes back to horrific life; the latter’s twin crutches of denial and caffeine (Things go better with Coke) help her survive in a fantasy world filled with sandwich-adoring customers—this pivotal decade is succinctly reinforced with a single diner stool and the ‘60s waitress costume.
Nicola Correia-Damude floats in and out of her righteous-sibling world with commendable naiveté; only a touch more inner realization when her familial myths are destroyed could improve the result.
Over the course of the play, we hear that “Rage keeps me alive” and “How dangerous men are.” No doubt, thousands of Albertines are rocking away their last days in the solitary confinement of nursing homes musing on the same truths. As well as this singular history, Tremblay’s notions of selective memory and gradual abandonment, reworked through the mists of loss, tranquillizers and rationalization are even more compelling now, as the baby boomers begin to take their turn, en masse, to star in their personal production of a life recalled.
Let’s hope there will be enough moons to go around. JWR