Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Michel Tremblay's Experiments in Naturalist Theatre: L'Impromptu d'Outremont and En Circuit Ferme

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Michel Tremblay's Experiments in Naturalist Theatre: L'Impromptu d'Outremont and En Circuit Ferme

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Much of the dramatic impact of Michel Tremblay'stheatre depends upon the fusion of realistic situations and fantastical elements achieved through the deployment of a wide variety of stage techniques. In the two plays studied, though, Tremblay abandons almost entirely his characteristic technical experimentation. The bourgeois characters featured in these works epitomize a lack of creativity and appear to be undeserving of the dramatist's imaginative resources. Tremblay's two experiments innaturalist theatre contain the elements of an aesthetic and social credo.

It has become a truism of criticism of the theatre of Michel Tremblay that much of his dramatic impact depends upon the fusion of realistic situations and fantastical elements achieved through the deployment of a wide variety of stage techniques. Thus, in his first major work, Les Belles-soeurs, (1) the succes de scandale premiered in Montreal in 1968, there are implausible but highly effective choruses, and monologues under spotlights unheard by the other characters on stage, while at the denouement of the play a rain of the trading stamps that provide the impetus for the action flutter down from the flies as the women who make up the entire cast join in a chorus of O Canada. Tremblay also much favours tricks with time. In A toi, pour toujours, ta Marie-Lou, (2) the four characters, a couple and their two daughters, interact in two time-spans a decade apart with only lighting effects and the focus of the discourse to show at what point in time the characters are framed. In Albertine, en cinq temps, (3) the eponymous heroine, played by five different actresses, is shown at moments in five different decades of her life responding to diverse predicaments, almost all of them painful and sad. In La Maison suspendue, (4) arguably one of Tremblay's finest plays, the action takes place at a house overlooking a lake in rural Quebec simultaneously in 1910, 1950, and 1990. The characters almost all belong to different generations of the same family. By contrast to the casting of Albertine, en cinq temps, the eleven-year-old boys who appear, respectively, at each date, Gabriel, Marcel, and Sebastien, are all played by the same actor. In this work Tremblay constantly shifts the focus from one temporal dimension to another, thus stressing the interrelatedness of the characters and involving the audience in their destinies. Most of the characters in Tremblay's plays are working-class, from Montreal's francophone east end, or belong to families with roots in that milieu, thus reflecting Tremblay's own origins. They frequently speak in joual (5) and in a number of cases are virtually inarticulate even if, on occasion, their language attains expressive power and, in moments of high emotion, can border on the poetic. Moreover, exploiting the Balzacian technique of personnages reparaissants, Tremblay has used individual characters in several plays and has extended the technique to his novels as well, so that theatre and fiction taken together have assumed almost epic proportions. (6) Although the situations Tremblay's people find themselves in are of the sort one associates with theatrical naturalism, because of the fantastical techniques deployed Pierre Gobin has justly asserted that the realism of Tremblay's theatre 'se trouve travere par l'insolite, le merveilleux ou l'inacceptable. (7) In their introduction to Le Monde de Michel Tremblay, Gilbert David and Pierre Lavoie claim that 'Michel Tremblay posede au premier chef l'art du ialisme hyperbolique, decompose, derealise, hypertrophie' (8) In short, the dramatist's work is characterized by magic realism; elements of it could even be labelled surreal. Tremblay's willingness to experiment, his acute artistic intelligence, and his creative deployment of fantasist elements have the result of breaking down conventional expectations of dramatic structure, technique, character, and theme.

Tremblay, though, has written several stand-alone plays, in which the characters have no connection, or only a tenuous one, with any others who have appeared in his work. …

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