Perched on a barstool in the last row of The Central, sweating freely with the other 60-odd souls packed into the small space, I remember thinking to myself “Man, I really hope this production of La Duchesse de Langeais is worth it.” And oh, it was.
The classic piece – written by Canadian powerhouse Michel Tremblay and presented at the Fringe by Apuka Theatre – was a knockout, and not just because we were all woozy from the heat anyway. Director Natalie Feheregyhazi took a big risk, deconstructing the piece, intended to be performed as a solo work, into three parts. It paid off.
La Duchesse de Langeais is an aging drag queen in her sunset years, brought to her knees by an unexpected love, both celebrating and mourning the moment in which she finds herself. It’s both tender and somewhat dirty, a combination I really enjoy and one which this cast played very well indeed.
Robert Godin, playing the aged Duchesse, brings a great combination of fearless sass to the role, making himself graceful and ungainly by turns as he re-creates moments in the scandalous life of La Duchesse. Amelia Sargisson as La Duchesse in her prime is marvelous, with a gorgeous variable voice that she quiet nicely employs to do a great deal of the acting for her, since her playing area is less than a square meter – and to great effect.
Lawrence Cotton, in the role of La Duchesse’s inner critic and detractor, is solid but a bit overshadowed by his costars. I would honestly be willing to believe that this was a deliberate theatrical choice by the director, however.
I would not have minded a little slower pacing of this show, overall. I wonder, somewhat, if the heat sped the actors up from their usual pace, since the description clocks the show at 55 minutes and it was a shade under 40 the night I saw it. Some of the richly nuanced interaction between Godin as the aged lady and Sargisson as her in the prime of youth could have used a good bit more time than they took on Sunday. If I could give this show one note, it would be to not be afraid of a little quiet.
My greatest amazement was how well the short show went off, despite the stifling heat. It was terrible to watch the actors drip sweat and struggle for a full breath in the swampy air, and I wasn’t sure that the audience was able to pay the best attention. I was very glad that this show was able to join the Fringe despite not getting a lottery spot, for sure, but I look forward to seeing it again, somewhere cooler. Much, much cooler.
Venue 18 The Central (Site Specific at 603 Markham St)
Mon, July 11 8:30PM
Wed, July 13 5:30PM
Thu, July 14 8:30PM
Fri, July 15 8:30PM
Sat, July 16 8:30PM
Sun, July 17 8:00PM
– All individual Fringe tickets are $10 ($5 for FringeKids) at the door (cash only).
– Advance tickets are $11, available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062, in person at The Randolph Centre for the Arts, 736 Bathurst Street
– Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows