W hen Les Belles-Sœurs played in Montreal in 1968 it sparked a language debate at all levels of Quebec society,1 influenced the choice and form of language used by numerous Quebec playwrights,2 and preoccupied theater critics for several decades. When Les Belles-Sœurs premiered in English as The Sisters-in-law at Toronto's Saint Lawrence Centre for the Arts in 1973, or when it was produced in English as Les Belles-Sœurs in 1991 at the Stratford Festival, few critics in Ontario mentioned language, however, preferring to comment on the play's social themes or humor. On the other hand, when the The Guid Sisters3 was presented in Scots at the Edinburgh Festival in 1987, and in Toronto, in 1990, once again reviewers talked about language.4
This is but one illustration of how many aspects of a play, in this case, its language, can become the focus of critical and popular attention. Although language is both extrinsic and intrinsic to the positive or negative reception of Les Belles-Sœurs and other works, there are other, purely extrinsic, factors that affect popularity. A new piece by Michel Tremblay or Gratien Gélinas, for instance, attracts immediate and generally sympathetic attention among theater-goers across Quebec and throughout Canada. There is also the question of the surroundings in which a play is produced, whether it is produced in Montreal, in Vancouver, or in New York, even the name of the theater troupe or that of the director, can all play a role.