Chasse-Galerie is a jolly, swear-laden light-in-the-dark, on stage in Toronto
The world can sometimes feel like a dark and unforgiving place and—particularly after the events this week—it may feel like we’ve made a deal with the Devil. Chasse-Galerie, a Kabìn and Storefront Theatre co-production, now playing at Soulpepper’s Young Centre, is a bright antidote to dark times. It’s theatre that feels like a party, and it’s one hell of a ride.A gender-swapped musical update of a French-Canadian legend, Chasse-Galerie tells the story of four coureuses des bois (woodswomen) who make a pact with the Great Tempter himself when he bursts into their cabin on New Year’s Eve under the name of Damien, offering them a temporary escape.
Instead of the drudgery of starving in the cold while felling trees and warding off bears, they will transport to their favourite bar in far-off Montreal via flying canoe. The only catch? They have to be back by dawn, they can’t touch any religious symbols, and they can’t swear, or their souls are forfeit. While the bargain turns out to be anything but simple, this show is more likely to restore your soul than to steal it.
The tavern-styled space is set up for maximum atmosphere and interactivity, with some table seating, a working bar before acts, and even a commemorative beer from Henderson brewery. If you’re lucky, an actor may compose you a verse pre-show. This engaging interactivity continues throughout the evening, culminating in a couple of rousing singalongs.
The cast won a 2015 Dora Award for outstanding ensemble performance after the original production (the script has since been reworked); it was richly deserved, as their focus, energy, comedic timing and musical talent (both vocal and instrumental) attest. In particular, all four lead women play their characters with conviction, each a recognizable type but more complex than a caricature.
National comic treasure Kat Letwin bulldozes through the play as hard-drinking, boisterous Michelle, for whom swearing is a way of life. She shares her destructive obsession with her whiskey-distilling “schmoop” Michel-Paul (Michael Cox, an elastic-limbed enabler with a soaring tenor) with winsome Lea (Nicole Power), doing her best work when paired with helpful archangel Uriel (Hunter Cardinal). He speaks in the most delightfully tortured, cowboy-inflected iambic pentameter you’re ever likely to hear.
Tess Benger’s Alex extends her deeply religious faith to her charmingly nearsighted belief in her lover Jaune (Alicia Toner), and Shaina Silver-Baird shines as practical, straight-laced Toba, whose musician dreams lead to an adorable (if engineered by Satan) meet-cute with shy pianist Francois (composer-lyricist James Smith).
Tyrone Savage cleverly orchestrates the proceedings with fiendish delight as both the show’s director and as Damien; his voice sometimes gets a little lost under the music, but he makes up for it with petulant charisma and a gravity-defying coif. Ghazal Azarbad plays his minion, Lucy (you can guess the last name) with tempting verve.
The music is memorable, folksy and stirring. Some numbers are more compelling than others; I love the concept of a song about polyamory, but it doesn’t go anywhere, while odes to whiskey and swearing are dynamite. The stylishly rustic costumes extend, enjoyably, to demons in onesies.
On the other hand, the accompanying projections are a nice idea, but detract from the real, present stage magic that’s happening with simple lighting, puppetry, and physicality; I found myself looking at the projections when I wanted to focus on the actors.
The show is fantastic fun, but it’s not just a raucous good time; after intermission, it becomes something more reflective and moving that deals with the real consequences of the women’s decision and the commitment they’ve made to each other. There’s something appealingly symbolic in watching the power of female friendship and its ability to triumph over an egotistical, cocksure man in control, and the harmonies they achieve underscore that point beautifully.
As the women discover, the heat of the fire is sometimes worth it to banish the encroaching cold, and it’s better to be together in hell than alone in heaven. It’s a lesson delivered with aplomb, and something we need to remember right now: we may be fiddling while Rome burns, but we’re fiddling together. Tabernac!
- Chasse-Galerie plays until November 26th at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane)
- Shows run Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm, with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2pm
- Ticket prices range from $20-$44 and can be purchased online, in person at the venue box office, or by phone at 416-866-8666
- Warning: the show contains some haze effects, adult subject matter, and lots of gleeful French swearing
Photo of Nicole Power, Kat Letwin, Hunter Cardinal, Tyrone Savage, Michael Cox, Tess Benger, Shaina Silver-Baird, Ghazal Azarbad, Alicia Toner by John Gundy