Feb. 20 to 22
La Cité francophone
8627 91 St., Edmonton
Tickets: $20 to $32. Visit lunitheatre.ca/tickets
I first had the privilege to see Les Belles-soeurs several decades ago through the University of Alberta’s drama department. I was glued to the action, mesmerized by how the strong women I saw on stage were a reminder of my mother and her friends.
Taking a more contemporary viewpoint, L’UniThéâtre presents this francophone masterpiece on Feb. 20 to 22 at La Cité francophone.
“We’re keeping it in the '60s, but for me it was a good comparison to see how women’s rights have changed in 52 years. And it varies from place to place. We know social programs are shutting down and it’s especially hard hit in rural areas,” said artistic director Joëlle Préfontaine.
Playwright Michel Tremblay premiered Les Belles-soeurs at Quebec’s Théâtre du Rideau Vert in 1968. Revolutionary at the time, it stirred up unprecedented controversy.
The two-act play portrayed the lives of French-Canadian working class women at a time when their perspectives were considered unsuitable for the stage.
The all-female cast spoke the more vulgar Joual dialect, another no-no. It also skewered the Roman Catholic Church’s tight grip on Quebec and attacked the province’s strait-laced deeply religious society.
All these elements produced a firestorm of controversy, but it changed Canadian theatre forever and was instrumental in furthering Quebec’s Quiet Revolution.
The Quiet Revolution occurred in the 1960s whereby the pro-sovereignty provincial government took control over health care, education and social services that had previously been in the hands of the Catholic church.
Although Tremblay did not always agree with pro-sovereignists, his trailblazing work helped break through cultural-societal-political barriers to create modern Quebec.
In Les Belles-soeurs, Germaine Lauzon wins a million Goldstar trading stamps. Unlike modern plastic points, these customer loyalty stamps are redeemable only if pasted in books. The work is tedious and she invites 14 family, friends and neighbours to assist.
As holder of one million stamps, Germaine can now upgrade her rundown home and order anything in a gift catalogue. She also believes the new-found wealth will add an excitement to a humdrum life.
But she underestimates the power of jealousy. As the women reveal private moments from their monochromatic lives, they busily tuck packets of stamps in their purses.
“The stamps represent hope and cause jealousy among the women. Germaine asks for help, but is not sharing. She even gloats. She believes they have not earned them and all women turn against each other,” said Préfontaine.
Tremblay’s 15 characters are strong women, but cursed with demons. Rose faces sexual humiliation every day. Pierrette, Germaine’s youngest sister, works in a nightclub and is considered a slut. Lisa considers an abortion, something the older women hate. Des-Neiges, an old maid, flirts with a travelling salesman. Thérèse takes care of her 83-year old mother-in-law Olivine, but abuses the old woman.
“It’s classic and still very much relevant and complicated.”
English surtitles are available.