Review: II(Two Rooms) (Théâtre Français)
By Ryan Kerr
Théâtre français de Toronto stages II (Two Rooms), an evocative French-language theatre production
I don’t know a ton of Anglophones who high-tail it over to see French theatre in Toronto. It’s a shame, because watching something live, in another language, is like taking a different path to a familiar destination or ordering a flakey croissant over a breakfast bagel. It’s a refreshing way to experience theatre because it requires a level of attention beyond the typically passive observer. To understand, you must read the surtitles, sometimes leaning forward to catch both inflection and the written word.
And heck, if you like going to the opera -almost never in English- or the ballet -requiring visual interpretation- why not taste the French style? Frankly, the quality of Théâtre Français de Toronto, now celebrating its 45th season, merits the extra effort.II(English Title: Two Rooms) is a two-hander, one-act play which profiles two characters as they confess their lives to the audience. Square-headed police officer Mercier (played by Jean Marc Dalpé) is on vacation in Tunisia when he finds himself enamoured of beautiful Maha (played by Elkahna Talbi). The couple relocate to Montréal where les deux begin life anew.
When 9/11 ignites a war on terror, everyone under Mercier’s gaze becomes a suspect, his loving wife included. Their innocent fairytale dissolves under the glare of suspicion, and through an emotionally charged revelation playwright Mansel Robinson delves into the issues that surface when tradition and habit come face-to-face with the exotic, exciting “other”.
Théâtre Français de Toronto’s production is disturbing and evocative, with a simple and intimidating set echoing the sentiments of entrapment caused by love soured. Elkahna Talbi portrays Maha as stoic, proud and not the slightest bit arrogant despite having relocated to a country where her former academic credentials, family and lifestyle become meaningless overnight. Jean Marc Dalpé (who also is responsible for this production’s translation of II(deux)) treads the line between extremist and sweetheart with calculated precision. He makes Mercier merciful -how ironic- despite the pathetic passage of his obsessive mind.
II(English Title: Two Rooms) bravely explores what otherwise would be taboo subject matter and discusses it with frankness. This allows the ideas to aerate and dissipate, rather than stifle and fester like the racist movement to which it refers. Going home, I discussed the complexities and differences between the two characters’ perspectives with my partner. That is, until our English tongues washed Théâtre Français de Toronto’s emotions away.
Check out their upcoming season and be sure to catch their next production, Albertine in Five Times, playing April 17-28.
Played at the Berkeley Street Theatre January 30 – February 3rd (Canadian Stage Company, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, ON M5A 2W3)