Review: La Sagouine – Pleiades Theatre, Toronto

La Sagouine at Berkley Street in English and then in French is a Canadian Cultural Treasure

By Sam Mooney

Maybe I shouldn’t say that La Sagouine – produced by Pleiades Theatre and playing at Berkeley Street Theatre – is a cultural treasure or a Canadian classic.  I don’t want anyone to think that it’s “serious” or “difficult” theatre.  On the contrary, it’s the most joyful play that I’ve seen in ages.

And funny, sad, insightful, endearing, acerbic, poetic, a bit profane, and above all, a truly enjoyable night at the theatre.

La Saguoine was written in 1971 by Antonine Maillet.  There were 16 monologues, originally conceived for radio, based on a real-life character in Bouctouche – an Acadian fishing village near Moncton, NB.  They were published as a book, and Ms. Maillet’s friend Viola Leger performed one of the monologues at the launch party.

She’s been performing them in French and in English ever since.  Viola Leger owns the role.  Her eyes sparkle when she laughs, her voice is a bit creaky, she’s everyone’s old grandmother (or great-grandmother) telling old grandmother stories about her life.  Not an easy life. A life she accepts.  There’s no whining or moaning or complaining, this is just the way it was.

There are 5 monologues in this production.  Death, The Pews, The Census, The War and The Spring. La Sagouine tells us her stories while sitting and drinking tea, sorting the laundry, scrubbing the floor – really scrubbing the floor! – and sitting outside on a bench.  She tells us about her family, her “bilious” husband, Gapi, her sanctimonious neighbour, the Church and the expulsion of Acadians from Canada. She tells us about spring and the happiness she feels.  It’s the most poetic of the monologues, lyric and teeming with beautiful images.  You can almost taste the spring air as she breathes it in.

Lots of humour – some very funny malapropisms – and impeccable timing.

It was quite an intimate experience.  I felt as if La Sagouine was talking to me, and I found myself nodding, and even responding to some things by saying “ahh” or “oh no”.  I wasn’t the only person doing that.  It was interesting, though; different people responded to different things.

I felt as if I was listening to my grandmother telling me stories about her life – and her mother’s life.  She grew up in a small village in New Brunswick, also near Moncton.  At first, I found myself thinking that there was a New Brunswick tone or feel or source for the stories but as I reflect on it, I think that the stories are universal and that’s their appeal.

Until May 29th, La Sagouine is playing in English.  From May 31 to June 5, it’s in French.  I wish my French was good enough to see that production, but I think I’d be lost.

La Sagouine is playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street)
– Performances are in English until May 29th and in French from May 31 to June 5.
– Performances are at 8 pm with a Senior Matinee May 24 at 2 pm
– Ticket prices for regular performances are $37.00, seniors $33.00.  The Senior Matinee is $14.00
– Tickets are available at the Canadian Stage Company Box Office at (416) 368-3110 or at the Berkeley  Street Theatre Box Office

Photo of Viola Léger as La Sangouine by Nir Bareket